Capturing the complexity

Talent development systems - Part two
A continuing series on how the cultivation of hidden talents can be imagined as a responsive system

When we design any system, we are modeling several other processes. A systems analysis captures how things happen prior to creating a system to facilitate those events. The staggering complexity of the world needs to be simplified to create a viable system design. The success of a system depends on how the complexity gets captured.

Talent development processes can be modeled several different ways:
  • As occurring within the mind of the person who has the hidden talent and brings it to full realization with her/his personal motivation, curiosity, reflection, experiences, etc.
  • As occurring between the individual and his/her context which includes opportunities to explore the possible new talent, pressures to cultivate new capabilities, etc.
  • As occurring between people such as a mentor & protege, coach & player, manager & direct report, leader & team members, etc
  • As occurring within a formal framework of procedures, events, meetings, progress reports, assessments, feedback sessions, etc.
Choosing between these alternatives becomes easier when we can anticipate the consequences of making each choice.

When we regard ongoing processes as objects, we make reductionistic errors. We mistake the continually changing dynamics for a constant condition. We assume the variability occurs within a predictable range. We become perfectionistic about how it should look and intolerant of countless human variations and situational influences. When creating a talent development system, we might cause ourselves problems by regarding talents as things rather than processes in flux. We would certainly do more harm than good by viewing the users as system components rather than unique, evolving individuals.

When we picture interactions between people, issues of power often disrupt the intended system. We want the people involved to coordinate, cooperate, communicate and collaborate with each other. We diagram them as equal nodes in cycles of ongoing interactions. We assume they can get along. Contrary to the design intentions, people get into power struggles if they are rivals, peers or equals. Likewise they fall into cycles of abuse, domination, or persecution if there is a significant power differential between them. When creating a talent development system, power conflicts could emerge between users of the system and the mentors involved, the managers overseeing the developments or other users of the system competing for particular job openings.

When we portray a process as sequential steps, we disregard the cyclical dynamics that may dominate a user's experience. The design assume that linear progress is being made as steps are taken toward a goal. However, the user feels drained by a vicious cycle of perpetual over-reactions to irritations. The users speak of "spinning our wheels", "here we go again" and "enduring pointless repetition". There's no escape from the cycle without dropping out of the system entirely. When creating a talent development system, vicious cycles could emerge in linear sequences to qualify for a position, to comply with requirements or to report on progress.

When we only capture the information flowing in one direction, we fail to incorporate all the informal feedback in the system. We know what the system is telling the users, but not what is being told to the system. The system delivers services without discovering what effects it's having, what to learn from the users' experiences or how to better respond to the situations created by the system design and user needs. When creating a talent development system, the users may talk among themselves about how useless, ineffective, bogus or unresponsive the system has become in their their experience.

As I considered all these issues, I concluded that the prototype talent development system would be least problematic with the first approach. By modeling the development of talent within the mind of a person, these pitfalls can be avoided. The user of the system is in control and maintaining his/her own talent development processes. The user asks for help and then externalizes the current issues for others to lend support. There is no dependency on, disruption by or struggle against a system that models the processes in a less effective way. The complexity is captured in a way that works.

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