Thursday, November 12, 2015

Systems and Networks - They're Not the Same

I'm a word snob. I like words to mean what I think they mean. And I go a little nuts when others interchange words with that mean different things -- at least according to me.

For example: "Systems" and "Networks."

These words are often treated as similes but in the context of complexity they are distinctly different -- at least according to me.

Systems exist. Networks are built.

Systems -- caused by the interactions of independent players -- come in many shapes and sizes whether one is discussing natural systems (such as ecosystems) or civic systems (such as a public health system). We may not like how the players within a system interact -- causing chaos like mudslides or epidemics. But the system exists. I frequently hear people say something like: "We need to create a workforce development system." Or worse, "Our workforce network needs to work more like a system."

If I could edit these people they'd say something like: "Our system is producing lousy outcomes. We need to build a network within the system that is effective enough to alter the system's outcomes."

Networks are built by players within a system that agree to assume shared responsibility to achieve common goals. They embrace rules of interaction that build trust, expand and strengthen connections and create enduring positive positive change. We call such behavior collaboration.

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