Monthly Archives: March 2010

On volunteer arts group that fail: an editorial from A Human Systems Design (HAS) perspective

Lezlie Kinyon, Ph.d. – all rights reserved, 2010.

In my “day job” as a human systems designer (I design educational programs), it is a basic principle of HAS that a system must function with a minimum of stressors: confusion, complexity, and “team” members who are able to work together toward a goal. When a system looses too many of its key elements and when even one member in a very small system – such as a play (or, a project team in a corporation) – works contrary to the goal or who is unable to function in way that furthers a successful outcome, it fails. That’s a very academic way of putting it, but it also pinpoints the primary problems in volunteer arts groups. I recently saw that play out before my eyes.

And, so – the recent failure of a project: It was a learning experience for me as well.

It’s easy under these conditions to find blame, to take a stance, to find “supporters” to show how you, personally, were not the cause of the failed system. It is equally human to continue the conversation by making statements concerning the behavior of others, be they leaders or perceived to be a part of the “other camp”. We’ve all done it and it is a way to “save face” – or- maybe just a sign of human contrariness. It is a completely human response to a painful situation.

The point of this note is to say this: instead of giving in to our contrary natures, or the need to “look good” at the time of failure, let us who work in the arts take a moment of mindfulness to learn from the failure. It is at these moments when the greatest lessons of HAS are learned. The storm of immediate response may then give way to compassionate clarity and an understanding of the lessons to be learned will then be revealed. Some will be obvious (such as not filing paper work at the proper time), and some more subtle or very personal.

What is HAS? Systems theory is an interdisciplinary theory about the nature of complex systems in nature, society, and science, and is a framework by which one can investigate and/or describe any group of objects that work together to produce some result. Human Systems Design is the application of systems theory and thinking to social systems, such as a non-profit, a school, a corporation or a government agency. The term “Human systems design” was coined by the founders of the modern idea of social systems theory, most notably by Béla H. Bánáthy. Several “branches” of HAS have formed over the past 20 years: (Wiki page: “… evolutional learning ecological systems with Howard T. Odum, Eugene Odum and Fritjof Capra, organizational theory and management with individuals such as Peter Senge, interdisciplinary study with areas like Human Resource Development from the work of Richard A. Swanson, and insights from educators such as Debora Hammond and Alfonso Montuori. As a transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary and multiperspectival domain, the area brings together principles and concepts from ontology, philosophy of science, physics, computer science, biology, and engineering as well as geography, sociology, political science, psychotherapy (within family systems therapy) and economics among others. Systems theory thus serves as a bridge for interdisciplinary dialogue between autonomous areas of study as well as within the area of systems science itself.”