Broken Systems – The Soap Opera America Has Become

I read a very provocative and interesting article by David Wallace-Wells, “America is Broken.” In the article the author points out how, over a very short time, America has gone from a leader in the world to a state that seems both unwilling and unable to help and protect its own citizens. Unless one is a member of the lucky 1%, a government of the people—by the people—for the people has gone the way of the dodo bird. What struck a memorable if sour note with me was Wallace’s description of America as the first rich failed state. Which brings us to our government’s response (or non-response) to the Coronavirus pandemic.

We know that approximately 94% of the outcomes we experience at work and in life, good and bad, are a function of the systems in which people work and live, not the efforts of those people. This means that if we want to improve outcomes, we have to optimize the systems. This optimizing of systems, including leadership systems, has essentially been my life’s work.

One thing I learned early on is that one bad apple really can spoil the barrel. In doing business performance improvement work we have to improve the systems and, in some cases, re-create those systems. Most workers eventually love optimized systems because they are set up to be more successful in their jobs and job satisfaction and morale rise. Unfortunately, there may be a very few who don’t want to change or grow who will try to sabotage the work, usually with passive-aggressive behavior. These are the 6% who really are people problems. Unless these people can grow to support the changes (most do), they must be asked to leave the company. Why? Because they tend to bring everyone down, a sort of reverse synergy.

Unfortunately for America and her people, we have a 6% problem driving the 94% problems. As the pandemic ramps up here exponentially, the brokeness of both “leadership” and the systems will become evident and many of the fast asleep may be aroused enough to open their eyes to how this brokenness adversely affects their lives.It often takes a personal crisis to wake people up. That crisis is on the way for most of us. Maybe our version of Nero, fiddling while America burns, is doing us a favor. The first step in creating change is awareness in the moment and a shattering of delusion. If, as has now become virtually assured, the pandemic in America is much worse than it needed to be, possibly enough Americans will wake up and begin to make the changes necessary to begin healing a broken America.

We must remember that, as bad as this pandemic will be for us, it will eventually pass. Which brings us to the existential problem that won’t pass while we fiddle in fantasyland, climate change. Notice that America’s response to climate change closely mirrors our response to the pandemic. Broken! Except if we don’t address climate change, we may one day be describing this pandemic as the good old days.