Thinking Mechanically About Organic Systems

Over the course of the past year or so, I've had discussions with several friends about thought processes and metaphors, specifically those relating to engineering.

A mechanical engineer, in many respects, is concerned with efficiency.  We want our cars to drive the most miles for the fewest gallons.  We want the aerodynamic drag coefficient to be as low as possible.  We want the maximum lift-to-drag ratio to be as high as possible at the highest mach number possible.  We want our HVAC system to move the most air at the lowest power requirement to reach the desired room temperature the most quickly.

Mechanical thinking: How do I make this system as efficient as possible?

And yet, I've noticed this assumption of efficiency as the most valuable factor invade other areas of life where I do not think it should be applied.  Public education, agriculture, and Christianity are organic systems (note that I balk at the idea of Christianity being reduced to a "system," as it really is much more of a complex idea) that have been tarnished, in my opinion, by an obsessive search for mechanical efficiency.

I've been meaning to write an essay on this.  I've culled quotes from thinkers such as Neil Postman and A.W. Tozer that suggest they see a similar issue.  I've got my main arguments and understandings.

Yet I've waited, mostly because I've been focusing on other work.

Last week, however, I read The Goal, a fascinating book about constraints on systems and bringing about improvements.  And I realize I've got more thinking to do before writing that essay.

Perhaps my frustration is not with thinking mechanically; that is, making efficiency a priority.  Perhaps my frustration is with applying that thinking myopically - making a subsystem more efficient when it has no (or even a detrimental) effect on the larger system as a whole.

Take public education: by some necessity, there needs to be standardization.  Yet, if our highest-priority efficiency is to churn out graduates with a certain set of skills and knowledge, tested in the same standard way and taught in the same standard way, I wager that the final "product" of our system will be vastly inferior to the potential "product:" Graduates with highly diverse skill sets, innovative problem-solving abilities, confidence in their perhaps unconventional abilities, etc.  Maximizing the efficiency of a school system will have negative effects down the line.  A localized efficiency can negatively affect the broader system.

More thought required!

What is your system?  What is its goal? 

What do you need to change?  What do you need to change to?  How do you effect that change?