Do We Repair or Do We Build?

Repairing things: cars, motorcycle engines, people, organisations is very different from building something from scratch. The mechanic or doctor, consultant or manager “deals with failure every day whereas the builder does not. This is because the things they fix are not of their own making and are therefore never known in a comprehensive or absolute way.” (Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew Crawford)

Building houses, mathematics and enterprise system development are constructive. Every element is in full view and can be placed deliberately. There is an element of design and one can be assertive in that design.

Diagnostics and repair require a different disposition. For those of us in these fields we need to be attentive rather than assertive.

Repair work does not require creativity. It demands attentiveness.

But because a mathematical model renders the thing modelled (the globe, the climate, a building, an artificial hip, an organisation) as something of our own making, we fall into the trap of thinking we are creating / building / constructing. We assert ourselves onto the thing we are supposed to be fixing.

Big mistake. Big, big mistake.

Assertiveness is not appropriate when we are dealing with something we don’t fully understand. It just makes us look stupid. Idiotic (in the original sense of the word – and even its more modern usage…)

And I would venture that the major reason for change programme failures is that the leaders of these programmes get the assertiveness / attentiveness thing mixed up.

Because we model and plan in the abstract we think we are building.

No, we do not drive change or make change, we can only broker it. We are repairing something not of our own making. We need to be attentive in the manner of conversation.

We are repairers of human systems. They exist already.

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