To give more than the sum of our parts

To give more than the sum of our parts

One of the most fascinating principles of systems thinking is that a system’s value can be more than the sum of its parts.

The best example I could think of is the 2014 NBA Finals where the Spurs beat the Heatles headlined by three superstars. The Spurs executed what was dubbed as “beautiful basketball”, using team chemistry and unselfish extra passes to create high-efficiency opportunities. On paper, the Miami Heat had more star power, but the 2014 Spurs was able to embody what it meant for a team’s basketball “value” to be greater than the sum of its individual players’ skills.

This is way easier said than done, because a system’s parts, or more appropriately its stakeholders (for a social system like a team) should be on the same page – coherent and harmonizing like beautiful prose or poetry.

It is not easy to pull this off. For this trimester of teaching research methods, I recognize that there are research groups who may be struggling with the high demands of a major course. There are times when I feel my more flexible style of coaching and research workshops, which worked for previous batches, are not as effective anymore. Despite recorded videos and a carefully curated research Google Drive resource I compiled throughout the years, it feels like there are groups who struggle to engage with some of the materials or may be downright overwhelmed by the expectations. There are some groups who excel and hit the ground running even at the start of the trimester, but this is more an exception than the rule. Maybe we are all undergoing transitions – coping with the risks and perceived inconveniences of a hybrid setup. To be fair, we have gone through some COVID infections and other personal disruptions this trimester. Maybe I am being too hard on myself and my students.

In experiencing these struggles, one may wonder whether it is all worth it – when one’s best may not necessarily be enough to engage or to inspire others. Trying to be at our best all the time can be exhausting and consuming. It may not be practical.

But the day ended quite well. Earlier, one of my thesis groups defended their proposal. The students of this group were my former research methods students exactly one year ago (research methods is same course I’m teaching to a new batch this term). Listening to their very coherent presentation and brilliant answers to panel questions delighted me to no end, being reason enough to not give up my attempt to give more than the sum of my parts. These rare flashes of brilliance is more than sufficient for a teacher to get nourishment for the soul. And it makes the struggle worth it.

Attempting to give more than the sum of our parts may be exhausting at times, but witnessing others be greater than their sum makes it all more than worthwhile.

Luke 21:1-4. She has offered her whole livelihood


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