Recently, Stick Child was watching the television channel ‘Stick Gold’, when he came across an episode of the 1980s children’s show, Fraggle Rock. If you’re about the same age as Stick Child’s Daddy, you may well remember it too.
Fraggle Rock was inhabited by Fraggles; colourful, furry little creatures, who spent most of their time playing games and exploring their environment. Their favourite food was radishes, and if they touched their heads together before they went to sleep they could share their dreams with each other.
Fraggle Rock was also inhabited by even smaller creatures called Doozers, who spent all of their time building constructions out of a radish-based substance, which the Fraggles liked to eat.
The Doozers actually wanted the Fraggles to eat their constructions so they could go on to build more. This was essentially the only interaction between Doozers and Fraggles; Doozers spent most of their time building, and Fraggles spent much of their time eating Doozer buildings. They thus form an odd sort of symbiosis.
This symbiosis was integral to the episode that Stick Child watched. Mokey (one of the Fraggles) called upon the Fraggles to stop eating the Doozers’ constructions – because they spent so much time making them. As a result, Fraggle Rock quickly filled with constructions, meaning the Doozers had no space left in which to build. After running out of space, the Doozers finally decided to try and find a new place to live as the Fraggles wouldn’t eat their constructions; there was even a tragic scene with a mother explaining to her daughter that Doozers must build or they will die.
Overhearing this, Mokey realised that she had inadvertently disrupted a vital symbiotic relationship through her well-intentioned, but ultimately misguided actions. As a result, she frantically rescinded her prohibition and encouraged the Fraggles to gorge on the structures – just in time to persuade the Doozers to stay.
Stick Child enjoyed the show, and even at the age of 9, recognised that there were parallels with real life. Sometimes managers make decisions, introduce new policies, initiate activity, or change systems conditions without first understanding the system, or the fact that their actions may cause unintended and unwanted side effects. This can happen even when they act with good intentions.
As Deming said, “We are being ruined by best efforts”.
Therefore, it’s important to recognise that best efforts and good intentions can destabilise symbiotic relationships necessary for the survival of the system. So… take a leaf out of the Fraggles’ book and heed the wise words of Gobo, Fraggle Rock’s resident systems thinker:*
* Okay, so I made that up.