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System Neglect

There's a sad irony to this post.  As the readers of this blog know, I used a tactical police approach to express the elements of systems thinking for my next book.  Beyond looking at one system, SWAT - Seize the Accomplishment also looks at the relationship AMONG systems.  SWAT also stands for "Systems Working All Together."  In the past three years, I've met so many amazing and brilliant and brave law enforcement officers.  They've demonstrated to me in numerous ways how every system's output is the input to another system.  Recognizing those interdependencies is key to understanding your business processes, your relationships, and the world around you.

So when I see a system failure cause the deaths of four police officers, it saddens and frustrates me.  What's even more frustrating is that the system failure was avoidable.  I'm not sure why then-Governor Mike Huckabee thought it wise to commute the sentence of a man with a violent past.  But in releasing Maurice Clemmons as an output of the Arkansas justice system, he created a dangerous and deadly input to the Washington justice system.  To a degree, Huckabee is correct in his statement about this tragedy being a "result of a series of failures in the justice system" but what I didn't see was anything accepting accountability for his role in setting those system failures in motion.

Now I know this sort of thing happens all the time.  Prisons are overcrowded.  Issues are complex.  Every prisoner is different (after all, Clemmons pulled off an amazing smoke screen in convincing Huckabee he was a changed man).  HOWEVER... The one output over which every executive, manager, and professional has complete control and accountability is his or her DECISIONS.  I was saddened to see Huckabee quickly shift the blame to the parole boards of Arkansas and Washington.  I don't even want to think about the feelings of the families of those four officers.  I was severely disheartened about this tragedy, and I - half a country away - merely live on the outer periphery of law enforcement.

When you're about to make a decision, ask yourself the following:

  • Why am I about to make the decision? Do the inputs I've been given support the output I'm about to create?
  • Am I willing to accept the downstream consequences of my decision? Will I be accountable, regardless of the outcome?
  • What other systems will be affected by my decision? How will my decision serve as an input to other systems?
  • What is my decision-making process?

As you can see, while good systems thinking skills are beneficial, a lack thereof can be disastrous.  We'll hope your decisions don't cost innocent people their lives.  I'm just thankful that another police officer's decision-making process ended the nightmare before other lives were lost.  To the families and colleagues and friends of the four officers, my sincerest and deepest sympathies.  You're in my thoughts and prayers.



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Timothy Johnson

Addendum: A friend of mine, a Huckabee supporter, sent me the following link. I would encourage you to read through all of the comments if you have time. Both sides are represented: http://www.huckpac.com/?Fuseaction=Blogs.View&Blog_id=2910

Ms. Admin

Mea Culpa!! How many times what is presented as fact leads us to assumptions--perhaps this is an instance of not understanding how a system works? i.e. parole boards and other commissions w/same responsibility but different names. This is a devastating event for all involved; my heart aches for the officers' families and the community of Lakewood where I once lived. Also, it will make it more difficult for prisoners who deserve to have their sentences commuted. I would urge you to rethink your assumptions and the premise for today's post (the guilt/system is not Huckabee's alone; many systems failed--so perhaps your post is dead-on).

Timothy Johnson

Made ya look.

That's one of the great points about systems thinking is that to understand systems, you have to THINK. And systems rarely behave in a linear fashion.

Your comment drives home the critical thought processes needed to comprehend systems. While the post initially comes across as lambasting Huckabee, it becomes pretty easy to see that his system failure was a catalyst.

How many business systems follow this model? One bad decision snowballs to multiple bad decisions. Then back-tracking becomes challenging. And the responsibility is camouflaged.

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