Monday, May 3, 2010

System Keepers and System Beaters

Making Monday

If you accept the notion that most of the human world can be understood in terms of systems, then we're ready to ask how people deal with system.

I tend to be suspicious of grand dichotomies that divide people into two camps, although I do find it hard to argue with the observation that there are two kinds of people in the world: the kind that divide people into two kinds and those that don't.

I say that because I think there are two basic ways to deal with systems: embrace them or get around them. I call the first system keepers and the second system beaters.

System Keepers

System keeper are willing to play the game. The challenge for them is to see how well they can do within the framework of the rules. The question of whether they could do better if the rules were different is at best a separate issue. They're more interested in seeing how the maker intended something to work than in seeing how far they can push it before it breaks.

System Beaters

System beaters are always looking for shortcuts, loop holes, or flaws that they can exploit to their advantage. A system represents something to be beaten or something to be used as a means to some other end. They tend to submit to a system only to the degree that they benefit by doing so.


System keepers see themselves as part of the system. System beater see themselves as exceptions.

System beaters are far more common than system keepers because life is much easier if you never have to truly take responsibility for yourself: system beaters always have an excuse, system keeper never do.

If that's not clear, think about this: Las Vegas is the temple of the system beaters.*

* Because everyone who goes there thinks that they will beat the odds.

 Image: Bill Longshaw /

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