“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names” – Chinese proverb

Since new knowledge requires new words to convey the learning appropriately, let’s use “Quintelemental” to describe a system with five elements.

Where do the five elements come from? A system starts with one idea. If there is one idea, then there is also an opposite to that idea. As the ideas grow into ideologies, some of their aspects become positively or negatively “charged.” As a result, a third ideology could emerge that takes the positive aspects from both original ideologies. Since there is now the presence of a third, a fourth ideology can emerge as its opposite. A fifth ideology will arise that is somehow connected to all four, yet is its own unique ideology. It ties the system together, and an emergent property results from the systemic interaction of the five elements.

That’s a pretty simplistic explanation, but it makes sense as one way a system can evolve from an idea.  Usually, however, a system is a group of positive components that must work together to create a desired effect.  If one element of the system is missing or defective, the system fails.

Here’s another system you’re probably familiar with.  In Journalism, it’s important to include the “5 W’s and the H” in any news item. All of us are familiar with the Who/What/Where/When/Why/How paradigm. In management, they can be described as fulfilling the specific statements that corporations develop to describe themselves:

  • Why (case)
  • How (strategic plan)
  • What (mission)
  • Where (vision)
  • Who (values)
  • When (timelines)

In this paradigm, note that the emergent property is “What,” or, the Mission of the company. All of the other five elements work in concert with each other to ensure the mission is fulfilled. If any element is missing, the mission stands a good chance of not being achieved. However, the mission will never be fully achieved, since, if it is, the system would cease to exist.

Comparing this with Jim Collins’ “Hedgehog Concept” from “Good to Great,” all 3 of his elements begin with the word “What,” namely:

  • What drives your economic engine?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What can you be the best in the world at?

Looking at each of these elements as a series of systems can be an exercise into introspection that could have dynamic results for a company or, for that matter, an individual, rather than simply focusing and brainstorming on “what” you do, what you like and what you have a talent for.  Personally, following those three simple statements could mean that I should have been a performing musician. While I may have enjoyed that lifestyle, I doubt that my family would, and I doubt that I would have been able to support my family.  This serves to explain how a simple consideration works when one is only self-focused, rather than being concerned with the resultant consequences of one’s actions. A systems approach is necessary to examine the deep impact that one’s actions can have not only personally, but also on those with whom one comes in contact, as well as those with whom one is in various degrees of relationship.

The system must be put in place so that each element can be attended to simultaneously, allowing for incremental growth in all aspects of the system, so as to align with the adage, “Everything in moderation.”  However, the intrinsic inclination to choose one element as the starting point seems germane to those of us that have been formally trained to think and learn linearly.  Teachers, for the most part, are linear thinkers, as are scientists, researchers, computer programmers and other professionals that have been trained to think “process,” where following the step-by-step plan will, in time, lead to a desired result.

If you’re searching for that watershed moment, consider Simon Sinek’s work, “Start With Why,” and begin by asking the question “Why,” rather than “What.”  In goal setting, the initial thought is “What do I want to do?”  This can lead to developing a plan that, if followed, will lead to the pre-determined goal.  However, when one starts with the question, “Why do I want to do ‘what,'” the process thinking involved can begin to transform itself into thinking about other elements necessary to attain the goal, resulting in a systems thinking mindset rather than a process or linear thinking one.

Starting with “why” can have profound effects on one’s personal transformation as a social being, and likewise, can help a social entity such as a school realize the personalized service it must offer to its constituents.  Further, going deeper, may I be so bold as to recommend “Who” as the initial step.  That is, arguably, an even more difficult question to answer, since it is the most personal one of all – “Who am I,” and why am I called to accomplish what I hope to achieve?

Next week, a closer look at systems, and how they pertain to schools.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2012-2020