The evolving system

From as far back as I can remember I’ve enjoyed lifting the lid on things to expose its hidden mechanics.

When, as a child, any household appliance or toy had broken beyond repair I’d jump at the chance to perform one of my directionless and inconclusive autopsies. Whether I knew what I was looking for, or at, mattered little, I was having too much fun to care.

But while I’d consider myself a keen and committed dismantler and occasional repairer, I’m no natural builder of things. What I mean is that I often lack the skills and knowledge to build something beyond prefabrication. To say, for instance, that I’ve built a working personal computer by sourcing and assembling the separate component parts would be perfectly true, but this was only achieved by carefully following instructions that I had no desire or reason to contradict or doubt. These step-by-step guides meant this layman didn’t need to understand in great detail what these components were and why they were needed.

This isn’t to belittle this kind of activity. I believe the assembly of a prefabricated system that works as intended is a more creative operation than pulling something to pieces. While the latter schooled me in the art of classification and labelling the former taught me an even greater lesson: that it’s not the separate component parts that matter, but the evolving system as a whole.

This lesson is something I think we can all take something from, particularly when trying to help an organisation or a group of content creators make that daunting leap from thinking and working in whole ‘pages’ of content to a system of smaller, dynamic modules, which could fly off in all manner of directions and co-exist with content from other groups and departments.

In nature, evolution happens not in isolation but in combination. To survive and thrive in an environment requires sharing it with others, not just simply demonstrating ruthless efficiency and aggression. It goes without saying that these departments and teams must be allowed to compete with one another to push through their own agendas and secure budgets, but I’m a big believer in encouraging people to take some shared responsibility for this organisation-wide adaptation process. To make this work there needs to be unity, co-operation as well as smart and sensible delegation; where the right people from the right departments get to work on the right things. As obvious as this sounds, it still amazes me how often a clash of egos or lingering frictions from a past episode manages to hamper such progress.

Working together in this manner also breeds a collective sense of responsibility for the future. When more people are encouraged to branch out from their own areas of influence and acquire a deeper understanding of the overall interconnectedness of a system the more they will help establish a culture of healthy restlessness. So even when faced with the challenge of supporting an increasing amount of devices, platforms and standards–fuelled by a fiercely competitive mobile marketplace–the system continues to evolve with widespread support, care and appreciation.

[Image credit: green circuit board by Peter Shanks]