Systems Innovation & Motivation
After recently producing a course on systems innovation and spending a long time thinking about systems change I have come to realize that a key aspect is motivation. Moving major systems is certainly not easy where we can just press a button and it is done, but also it is not impossible where we have to wait around for some divine intervention to occur. It is in the space in between which is the space of very difficult, it is the space of long-term sustained hard work and commitment and requires a huge amount of real persistent motivation. Systems change should not require lone geniuses but also it is certainly not for everyone. These are wicked problems they require deep infrastructure to be built up over years before you can ever begin to hope to deal with the real issues and make measurable changes to outcomes, building that infrastructure requires very strong commitment and motivation. You simply will not sustain this unless you have some form of deep motivation. Likewise, if this is a real wicked problem one thing is for sure you are going to fail many many times before you begin to achieve anything – to stay continuously trying, even when things seem impossible, requires a level of determination and resilience that most people don’t seem have.
No one tries to solve a complex problem because they want to make more money or have a nice car to drive, they do it out of some broader motivation. But a simple form of motivation and a narrow form of resilience, will not be sufficed. These problems will take you on an open-ended journey, the problem, and solution will coevolve, your understanding of the problem and solution will go through radical changes and this means you will often find yourself almost completely uncertain about what you are trying to achieve or how you are going to do it. Most people are motivated by simple ideas of success but once you see that your understanding of the problem was incorrect and has to change your metric of success will also change and you will lose your original, with systems change not only does the problem and potential solution evolve over a long period of time but I think also that ones motivation has to continuously grow and evolve with the problem.
Over and over again you will find yourself back at square one, alone or with a very small team powerless in the face of some a huge inert system you are trying to move. We will only ever go as far as our motivation, thus it is worth being realistic about our motivation and matching that to the problem – we have to be clear about our motivation. Negative motivation will not be sufficed to solve complex problems. Negative motivation is behavior motivated by anticipation or fear that an undesirable outcome will result from not performing. Fear is a powerful motivator, especially when that fear relates to one’s survival or income. This kind of motivation is fine for solving simple problems because it focuses our attention on the problem and solving it, but it does not give you the resources to explore the issue from multiple perspectives, to embrace the system as it is. Being hungry will motivate you to go to the shop, but it will not motivate you to reimagine your local food system.
Solving complex problems requires a positive comprehensive vision that is expansive enabling people to explore different possibilities not working towards a preconceived fixed point but instead a process of exploration towards a vision of the world that inspires people. This takes us into the qualitative domain; vision is a question of culture, of narrative, of values and quality all of which can not be left on the sidelines they need to be engaged in a positive and constructive way if people are going to sustain the long journey of systems change. Systems change is quite simply a long and difficult journey and to sustain that we need to harness all the resources we have available to us; all those qualitative aspects of culture and values that foster and support motivation.