Stage 6.7  Transforming the System-II: What Is "Better"?

Again and again throughout the Guide we address the "how" of change more than the "what," assuming as we go along that the "what" is something desirable, preferably something of proven value on the basis of many criteria, something that will demonstrably and assuredly help people in tangible ways. But now as we address the question of fundamental system change we need to come back to the question of what is really "better" for a complex functional-social system.

The question is too big to be answered here in any completeness, but a few indicators might be suggested, even though each has to be highly qualified. We propose that systems can be seen as changing for the better as they:

  • grow larger,
  • become more integrated,
  • become more differentiated,
  • provide more rewards, and
  • become more effective as innovators and problem-solvers.

Grow larger

Growth, the ability to grow and to keep growing, has to be an important criterion of positive system change. Growth may simply mean increasing the size of a system, but positive growth would signify something like serving more people, employing more people, providing more products and services. It may also mean becoming more inclusive, including more people in decision making, etc.

Growth, per se, cannot be argued to be a "good" on a priori grounds. Clearly some types of growth are dysfunctional for a system and size just for the sake of size has limited merit. Yet there is always room for positive growth in some direction, some aspect of the system. There are some things that can be added or expanded to make the system work better.

More integration

Becoming more internally connected is another aspect of positive change that has been stressed throughout The Guide. The more linkages there are among members of the system, units of the system, people performing different functions, people at higher and lower levels of the structure, etc., the stronger the system will be and the better able to carry out its mission. Thus, connectedness is probably an a priori "good" for any system.

More differentiation

The other side of the integration coin is differentiation. This may be a slightly harder concept to sell as an a priori "good" but it certainly qualifies. If we think of the animal kingdom there is no question that the higher species are far more differentiated; i.e., different sets of cells specialize their functions to a much higher degree. The same is arguably true of organizations; the more specialized the roles and subunits, the more functions can be performed and the more efficiently most functions can be performed.

More division of people and labor can also lead to more problems, as we have discussed many times. Thus, greater differentiation without equal or greater integration can be a disaster. Creating new units, such as for example the change unit discussed earlier, have distinct costs; they require new links of communication, changes in rules and procedures, in a word, integration.

More rewards

Systems exist in large part to provide "goods" in the broadest sense of that word. These goods could also be thought of as incentives or rewards for the various people who are providing inputs to the system, are members of the system, or receive outputs from the system. Rewards in these three categories may be very different, but they are all real and important.

On the input side, there are investors and suppliers. The ability of the system to take in more supplies, whether they are students or books or other materials, benefits someone in the larger community. If the school is able to inspire more investment of time and money and support from parents and others, this too is a positive system change.

Within the system itself, if more members can be gainfully employed, if members are more satisfied with their work, and if the work environment leads to higher productivity and higher life quality for members, these are all countable and significant "goods" as well.

Finally, on the output side, if the system is able to produce graduates who are more highly skilled, more knowledgeable, more able to earn incomes, more able and willing to contribute to the society as citizens, more able to be good parents, more able even to enjoy life for themselves, and to fulfill their lives in a well rounded way, these are all important "goods" on the output side.

More effective innovator and problem-solver

Finally, we should list as an important positive outcome the ability of the system to function better as an innovator and problem solver. Effective systems should always be innovative, trying to find ways to perform more functions and perform them better and striving to solve the problems that are always there both within the system and within the larger world of which it is a part. This too is an a priori good and it is this good toward which the Guide is especially directed.