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Taking a look at the system

by Robert Docter – 

By definition systems resist change. The system that is the Army resists change. It reminds me of one of these giant oil tankers carrying a highly valuable and necessary product for distribution to humanity. The ship is a monstrous, cumbersome vessel that takes miles to turn. Systems want to stay the same. They even want to maintain the status quo when what they are doing isn’t working.

Those who are part of this Army system want to see productive change. They want to “save more souls—make more saints—serve a suffering humanity more effectively. They have sought to do this with extensive planning, voluminous writing, and widespread communication. They want to be more effective. It’s possible, however, that they need to be more affective. Being effective requires mind-work. Being affective requires more feeling work. Religious communication takes place from soul to soul. Much more feeling is involved than thinking. We need more passionate people willing to share their love for humanity with others.

Systems theorists have identified two types of change. First order change involves some slight tinkering with the system of the band-aid variety. It tends to be “more of the same.” It might improve a little, but not for long. The system will revert back to its original design. For example: if a sinner goes to the altar and always asks roughly the same thing—for God to help him/her try harder, that person is probably experiencing first order change.

Second order change is a dramatic shift in the system’s basic structure. It changes the way the system operates. The structure of the system pertains to its rules, the roles its members assume, its boundaries both within the system and to the outside world, its communication patterns and style, power and leadership styles, exercise of control, levels of dependency and independency.

Perhaps the best way to achieve second order change is to change the rules by which the system operates. For example: if a sinner goes to the altar and accepts a new belief system, confesses sins, believes they are forgiven, and affirms to all that he/she is a different person, then begins to demonstrate a new lifestyle because he or she has established new personal rules for life—that person has probably experienced second order change—a change in an individual system.

The Army has primarily tinkered with first order change. We’ve lost the bonnet in favor of the hat for women. Our uniform collars are no longer rigid, 19th century chokers. Our social work programs are improved and more sophisticated, but still responsive only to individual need rather than proactive in relation to causal factors. Our basic organizational structure consistently improves, but it remains a 19th century organizational model. We’ve changed slightly in relation to our commitment to the military metaphor by continuing to eliminate some ranks. Now most officers are either a captain or a major. This is first order tinkering—sometimes it’s big tinkering, but rarely do we get close to changing the structure of the system itself.

We have, however, seen some important second order change internationally and territorially in relation to a number of items. For instance one pertains to personnel rules relative to accepting lieutenant applicants for ministry leadership. We no longer expect their service to be a lifetime. Another examines the rule that implies officers learn all they need during their two years of training. They are now required to have a minimum of 24 hours of continuing education every two years.

We need to structure our planning and praying to achieve more second order change. We could begin by figuring out some of the anachronistic unwritten rules that limit us in the achievement of our mission.

Brett Turnquist: “There was no hope left for me”

Brett Turnquist: “There was no hope left for me”

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