There is safety in a collective agreement that we all do things a certain way.

When we all agree, we eliminate the need to continually negotiate. We can stop looking over our shoulder. We no longer need to expend precious energy wondering when our turn will be, who we need to get in front of, whether we are going to miss out.

When we all agree, it’s obvious when someone acts out of turn. And we can be safe in the knowledge that if they do, that person will be held accountable. Perhaps through an overt punishment like a fine. Perhaps less overt - such as being socially shunned. But one way or another, they will be forced to go to the back of the line.

When we all agree, there are no shortcuts, no VIP clubs. These are some of the benefits of a collectivist culture.

But there’s the dark side too. In Japan, there’s an old saying that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. In Western Culture, it’s known as tall poppy syndrome. It’s the idea that we don’t like those who speak up, who make change happen, who achieve higher status.

Still, there’s much we can learn about creating systems that support collective agreement, about supporting not just ourselves but our networks.

When complexity becomes a burden

There is a traffic light I encounter everyday on my way to work. It’s at a regular four way intersection - streets perfectly perpendicular to one another.

In one direction the street is divided into four lanes, the other into two. It’s not an overly busy intersection however on one side is the entrance to a bus loop making it a hub for pedestrian traffic.

The duration between light changes is interminable and there are long periods where no one moves at all. Drivers receive advance green arrows no matter in which direction they are turning or from where they approach.

All of this waiting while streams of traffic move only in one direction or another makes pedestrians impatient. Instead of waiting for the signal to cross, they’ll cross whenever it appears clear. Often only to become stranded on an island at the centre of the intersection.

The signal sequence makes the flow of traffic unpredictable. On many occasions, I’ve watched as pedestrians get blindsided by vehicles travelling in a direction at a time they didn’t expect.

The intersection is a system burdened by unnecessary complexity.

Which of your systems could benefit from pruning, or paring back to leave a minimum viable offering?