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Stop Blaming the System!

18/03/2013

AbstractI see it again and again. The suggestion of systems thinkers and Agile writers to stop blaming people and instead try blaming the system.

“It’s not the people who perform badly, it’s the system that doesn’t enable people to perform.”

“It’s not the employees’ decisions that are wrong, it’s the rules and procedures we should get rid of.”

“It’s not the individuals who screw up, it’s the organization that drives everyone to failure.”

Oh, really?

Who created that bad “system”? Did some alien life form impose it on the people?

What are those rules and procedures actually? Are they how we program human beings?

What is the “organization” really? Can we point at it, without pointing to ourselves?

Blaming the System? What System?

Seriously, what is the difference between blaming other people versus blaming the system? It seems to me it’s all the same, as long as we’re not blaming ourselves!

How convenient.

One of my best friends has been hating her job for years, and I’m sure many of her 4,000 colleagues feel the same. How much does it help her switching from blaming her colleagues to blaming the system? I’d say, “blame yourself!

The “system” is 4000 colleagues just like her who make each others lives miserable every day. The “rules and procedures” are people’s own behaviors that they inflict upon each other. And their “organization” only exists because 4,000 people have collectively decided not to quit their jobs.

If you want a bad system to go away you should stop helping harmless abstract things such as systems, rules, and procedures to be turned into a horrible reality. Only people have that power.

Stop blaming the system.

Blame yourself.

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This article is written by on in Complexity Thinking. Jurgen Appelo is at Happy Melly. Connect with Jurgen Appelo on .

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  • Victoria Helena Thompson

    Great article! Couldn’t agree more! It shows that the idea that “people get the government they deserve” also applies in business.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mikepevans Mikepevans

    Very well said. Amazingly dysfunctional systems/processes can be overcome with great people. Better yet, a great team would recognize such a terrible system and work to change it.

  • http://agilizateya.wordpress.com Manuel Bernal

    In Robin Sharma words, “Take personal responsibility”, Great Article!!!!

  • http://www.wissel.net Stephan H Wissel

    Changing the system one rule at a time. Personal responsibility is a key ingredient, but not the only one. It takes courage and confidence in one’s own integrity to “fight the good fight”
    Too many of us surrender to (economic) fear (justified or not).

  • http://profile.typepad.com/riccardobua RiccardoBua

    Can’t agree more, the main issue is that you can’t change people or the system, just yourself, that is the only factor you can truly control…

  • http://www.bigvisible.com John S. Ryan

    I absolutely empathize with the sentiment Jurgen. I too see, almost daily, people who actually do have the opportunity to make a change and instead seem to just “suffer through it” and make it a habit to bitch about it.
    However, if we really want to make a difference in action, here (and not just be venting, ourselves), we’d start by acknowledge that the process of “blaming” regardless of whom it is directed, is the true dysfunction. Blaming is something we do instead of taking 100% responsibility for our own circumstances. So, yes! Don’t blame the system! but… don’t blame yourself either… why blame anyone? Is blaming actually even necessary? What does blaming actually accomplish?
    Why not, instead, short-circuit the process and affirm to take responsibility: as an individual in the company, either decide that things are good enough for you, fully accept that and get on with your job (i.e. truly let it go) -OR- decide what it is that you will do about it. You could go work somewhere’s else. You could figure out what’s in your control, do that and accept the rest.
    You could also consider the interdependence of people in an organization. You could look for ways to influence what’s not in your control (find common aims with those you wish to work better). You could attempt to garner support to make a change (e.g. collect data to support a narrative about why a given process/policy/habit is incongruent with the organization’s apparent goals and frame it in ways that’s compelling to those who DO have control).
    (Notice the middle way in all this, it’s not just about the actor, it’s not just about the system, it’s both at the same time.)
    These are all viable options (and there are probably more). It all comes down to choice… personal choice. And reclaiming your choice is reclaiming your true power. Drawing people back to their power is our best chance at actually making a difference. Let’s do it!

  • Jim McCarthy

    Amen.

  • Peter de jager

    “be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi … Otherwise you are the system you despise in the world

  • tmeydad

    “Stop Blaming the System!” = “Accountability” ? :)