Do You Work On or In the System?

Thomas Edison built the world's first large-sc...

Thomas Edison built the world’s first large-scale electrical supply network. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity to progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.” – Thomas Edison

One of my favorite quotes and part of it can be heard by Susan B. Anthony at Disney World’s American Adventure in EPCOT.

There are certain people that are satisfied working IN a system. The mantra of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rules their daily lives. Compliance and “getting by” makes for a pretty boring life. For some it is because they have nearly always been successful working IN the system. In education, we find Valedictorians fit this mold. Why would they want to change the education system? Or executives receiving big bonuses and pay, why would they change the system?

This creates a management paradox – or in this case a system paradox. Why would you look to improve something that seems to be making you money or moving you seemingly forward. Working IN the system can certainly have its rewards.

Fortunately or unfortunately, many of us don’t live by this creed. There has to be a better way – always. The constant struggle to find  the road to utopia can be exhausting and never-ending. After all, “always” and “never-ending” are a long time. Seems easier just to comply and fit-in rather than constantly seek better ways.

Those bent on finding a better way by working ON the system need to be able to “unfreeze” those satisfied with the status quo. This can be no small task. The battle is to be able to challenge beliefs and assumptions without tripping the cognitive dissonance alarms. Once those babies are set off, denial and resistance are soon to follow.

My latest research has me looking into the research done to date in the social sciences. I have found – not surprisingly – that there has to exist some curiosity or openness in an individual. This is individual and subjective to the person targeted for new perspectives.

An approach I use is to have someone look at their organization from a different perspective. A front-line view is often helpful as interactions with customers take place there. For all the reports and financial statements nothing can tell you more than looking at interactions between the customer-facing worker and the customer.  New perspectives are gained and can “unfreeze” your targeted audience.

The first chapter of my new eBook – The Service Cost Paradox – gives you a method to “melt” those stuck working IN the system. Once the person starts to question their system – there is no turning back – they are now working ON the system. The next natural step is to ask “why” the organization performs that way – this is the subject of Chapter 2.

Whether you or somebody you know is stuck IN the system – taking action to “unfreeze” your thinking can bring you to breakthrough improvement.

Down load my free eBook at Take a look at your organization as your customers see it – our 4-day workshop has been called “an awakening experience.” You will understand the customer view of your organization and take inventory of the assumptions, beliefs and perspectives that drive performance. Tripp Babbitt is a service design architect and organizational futurist. His company helps service organizations understand future trends, culture and customer. The 95 Method designs organizations to improve the comprehensive customer experience while improving culture and management effectiveness. Read his column at Quality Digest and his articles for PEX and CallCenterIQ. Reach him on Twitter at or LinkedIn at

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