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System and structure – revisiting

System’, ‘Structure’, ‘Process’ – these familiar concepts were oft repeated in the class across courses. Unfortunately, one leaves the MBA programme thinking these are concepts relevant only to the reality of business organizations. Why is this unfortunate? Because, it creates single track thinking. And, life, as we all know, is never linear.

Can we then think of applying these concepts in a different context- a context that we call ‘career’, ‘professional growth’, ‘learning from experience’? How?

Let’s visualize ourselves standing by the window, watching a rainfall. There is this house with a sloping tin roof just opposite to our window. The rain water falls on the roof, flows downward and then flows away into the street. Every drop that falls has a structure. This is what chemistry has taught us. But in the absence of a system to collect it, the water simply flows away and thus its potential cannot be harnessed.

This happens to us too. Every task that we complete is the result of an effort. Effort has structure – pure intention, thought, activity and application are its elements. What is the ‘system’ here? Every task creates within us some learning – in different spheres – maybe planning, maybe about our competency, maybe about our behaviour, etc. This learning conceptualized and further applied becomes a system for harnessing experience.

Often, at some point in our career, we are all prone to reflect on what makes some people move forward, what makes some people fast learners, what makes some people successful most of the times? My answer to each of these questions is only one ‘System”. Having a system ensures that we are systematic – systematic in our approach to doing what we do, be it learning, task completion, or making a career move.

How does the scene look without a system? Every task, like every drop of water, has its elements. We all continue working on these elements. So there is more effort, more planning, more focus on deadlines (so that they are not missed), and so on. So what happens? Task accomplishment. Yes, we move from ‘completing a task’ to ‘accomplishing the task’. But, there is still a possibility that tasks would remain isolated accomplishments.

Having a system, on the other hand, is likely to enhance the quality of the inherent elements viz. the quality (not merely the intensity) of our effort, of our focus, of our application. What then begins to take shape is a robust foundation very similar to collecting water in the utensil and not just let it flow.

And what is this ‘system’? What are we collecting? This system is the action of periodically reflecting on our learning and answering the question – what have I learnt about my knowledge and method of doing a task? My behaviour? My ability to network or build and sustain relationships? Where are the gaps? What do I need to do to fill in these gaps? the action of methodically acting on the gaps and moving to a different level of being at a subsequent stage, the action of making planned moves moving across roles, moving across industries, moving across organisations or simply moving up the ladder

And what we have collected is ‘experience’ that is not just the alphabets put together in a certain arrangement to create a word but ‘experience’ as a robust foundation that can convince the other person that it is strong enough to build a skyscraper on.

Without the ‘system’, our experience is just a collection of random tasks.

A system ensures that one and one put together need not always be two, it can also be eleven.

By Prof. Harismita Trivedi | Human Resource Management

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