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Position

When a performer holds a certain role for a long time, sometimes acting in accordance with the interests of that role in situations when they are expected to perform other roles and thus pursue other interests (i.e., with the objects of interest and preferences of that role at the forefront in any role they play in the corresponding work method), this is called a "position" (a concept of system activity methodologists, almost equivalent to the concept of methodological/project/activity/organizational role, but with its specific characteristics). At the same time, do not confuse the "1. position" as a term for reliable role-playing (conscious or unconscious) and another lexical meaning— "2. position" as a position in an organization. Let's not discuss the job position, let's continue discussing roles.

When an agent not only performs a role but also takes on the role position of a "manager," then their managerial values/preferences in certain important characteristics for their role begin to manifest even when they organize engineers in a working project and when they raise children, and when they sit in parliament. When this actor is in the position of a "parent," then they have educational (for example, instilling certain moral values in others) objects of interest/important characteristics and preferences/interests both at home with children, in the work group, and at a noisy party.

Positions are most often taken unconsciously (and thus "positioners"—agents occupying positions—are easily manipulated: their actions can be easily predicted since they are no longer acting on their own, they have a very predictable role/functional position and its values, and they cannot change it, cannot step out of character. The reaction of an executor stuck in a role to being made aware of their unconsciously held position can vary: "I seem to be stuck in a role in my mind, thank you for pointing it out" or conversely "What position am I stuck in? Why do my roles not change in different tasks? I am so spontaneous and diverse, something to be proud of!"

However, prolonged role-playing by an agent can be intentional and conscious—conscious focus on the interests of the role, concentration, "holding the position." If this is "unconscious concentration," then it is more like "de-concentration" (loss of control over one's attention), "unconscious getting stuck in a role," "unconscious position holding." In any case, a position is prolonged and explicit role-holding, whether intentional or unintentional.

It is important to note the term project/functional/activity role: a "project role" means a role in a project, but the role is not taken from the project, it is taken from some culturally-conditioned method of work. An Activity role—a role in activity/"type of work," these are synonyms with slight nuances in meaning, but all refer to the division of labor. The role of a "carpenter" is not taken from a project called "creating a dog kennel," but from human culture, it is a functional role—but in a project to create a dog kennel, it becomes a project role! To avoid confusion, one can always check: if both these roles are played by one and the same physically existing Stepan Nikanorovich at the same time, then it's about the same role—different names only emphasize different aspects of this role: the project in which this role is involved, and the activity in which this role is defined.

You can also add synonyms: methodological/project/functional/activity/practical/labor/cultural/organizational/engineering role. If you want to emphasize that you adhere to systems engineering as a normative method, then it would be an "engineering role"—and even some "politician" here would be in an engineering role (as a social engineer). If these roles are held by someone for a long time, they will no longer be roles but methodological/project/activity/practical/labor/engineering/cultural/organizational positions.

Taking a position is more about the "method of work"/"type of activity"/"mode of labor"/"engineering mode"/"subculture type" (sometimes they speak about working methods in general, activities in general, work in general, but sometimes they emphasize that one role usually involves only part of all the possible methods/activities/labor/engineering/practices, then they simply insert "type" or "variant"—"method variant," "work type," "cultural type," or even "subculture variant" to emphasize the applicability of the reasoning to a certain variety of methods), but less so about the project. A person who takes a position usually holds it consciously and unconsciously not in just one project, but in many projects—this is somewhat like "choosing a profession" (conscious choice) or "finding oneself in a profession" (unconscious choice), rather than a purely situational choice "in a project to create a specific system." An agent in the role of a "carpenter"—they will be the "carpenter of the project" in all projects if they maintain the position, but we would call it an activity/labor role for that role, not a project role. This is due to the fact that roles are selected and positions are occupied not by any role, but only by the one for which the agent has the skills in the ways of that role. If you want to take on the role of a hairdresser or a heat engineer, then without skills in hair cutting methods or heat engineering methods, it won't work.

One can and should deliberately take a position: "I will strategically take this position," meaning "I will choose a role that I understand in a clear play/activity/practice/game/culture, and I will focus on the interests and preferences of that role in various projects until I decide otherwise and voluntarily step out of that role" (and somewhere nearby will be training in the methods of the chosen role). Strategically—this means that a decision was made during strategizing to adhere to a certain method of work and focus on it (see the "Systems Management" course for more details on strategizing, as there are two sections dedicated to strategizing. It turns out that strategizing is equally applicable to human agents and organizational agents).

An agent's deliberate choice (for example, by a person) of a role/position during strategizing is usually referred to as self-determination and highly valued: you become predictable in your behavior for people with a labor background. They understand how to collaborate with you, what you can do, and what you won't. Self-determination significantly facilitates entry into different projects and improves teamwork. Remember that self-determination is not enough on its own; you also need to have skill in executing the methods of the role you've taken on, as well as focus to maintain that position during the project.

When an executor jumps between different roles in one project like a rabbit, it is very difficult to negotiate with them: the external effect is such that they seem to continuously change their areas of interest and preferences—what was valuable to them in their previous role five minutes ago suddenly becomes insignificant, but instead, new claims appear regarding long-accepted values of characteristics from other roles. A person without explicitly presented roles and role preferences can be called "a flexible person, nobody can catch him," or (more commonly and often called this way!) "slippery." So it's better to be focused and somehow try to take a position, rather than simply "play roles one after the other every second."

People, acting as actors, very rarely intentionally and deliberately avoid firmly taking a position to make their actions unpredictable, to hide their role objects/zones/areas of interest, hidden intentions and strategies (methods/ways of working as agents), making their actions difficult to predict. In such cases, these people/actors just have poor role orientation, not realizing them (not knowing that they are expected to play a role instead of "actively participating" in the project), they do not deliberately avoid holding a position, but their attention wanders among various topics of discussion, they lack concentration, and they do not notice it themselves.

Sometimes the necessity of role-playing by actors is realized, but they simply lack the necessary skill to perform their role: they do not know the role well, are not familiar with the labor culture, have not read textbooks, and have not received other training; they lack experience in role-playing because they do not spend time playing the role; they lack a labor background, and therefore do not understand how to negotiate with actors performing other roles in this project.

Unfocused individuals will hold a position unstablely, instably reproduce role behavior—this will be a problem for the project. The functional/professional/activity/labor/project/engineering/practical/methodological/organizational/cultural role of a person can change even while uttering a single phrase—the beginning of the phrase might be, for example, from the role of Prince Hamlet or an operations manager, and the end could be from the role of Othello or a money-grubber wishing to snag a bonus to their salary.

Switching between roles can involve roles from a completely different play or game (as in the case of Prince Hamlet and Othello, operations manager and money-grubber)—and yes, this can be a manifestation of conflicts of interest. Or suddenly a political functionary emerges, deciding to implement the policy of their political party directly in the workplace. A systems thinker must track such situations and use leadership methods (in the theater, this is done with respect to actors by a director), helping role performers to settle into their roles and focusing them on role work in the project, rather than simply arbitrary "living within the project."

Many people are perceived as reliable (and indeed are) because the "holding of a role"/"taking a position" happens automatically, as a habit of their thinking. They automatically adhere to a "set of values" (that is, interests, preferences in the values of important characteristics—we seldom use the word "values" consciously, as it may be understood differently by everyone and can be confusing, sometimes it means value/benefit, rather than "values of important characteristics"; sometimes it refers to morals) in their role, for which they have been stuck, and values of work methods they have been engaged in for a long time. This is why they appear as principled people, defending some principles. But if they do not have a job/task/work and the position/role enabling them to play/work, they might unconsciously "lose the position" and hence seem slippery and unprincipled: they are never "Prince Hamlets," they are always Vasya Pupkins, to whom it is impossible to play roles for multiple role plays, that is, to participate in the division of labor (work of different agents with different work methods in which they have different competencies). And nowadays, there are no projects without labor division.

People (we are mainly talking about people, not AI or organizations) who are aware of the roles they perform can choose—either to hold certain positions for a long time or, conversely, part with the held positions when the need for them has passed. People who understand other people's roles often understand the objects of interest and role preferences/motives/values for specific actions and statements of people just by thinking about the roles being carried out. It is because they are not considering the people themselves but the roles they are playing. They usually know quite a bit about the roles in the culture, plus they can always supplement their knowledge (e.g., by googling or asking an AI if the role is rare).

In numerous cases, a "position" is defined by a profession, often referring to commonly used methods thoroughly mastered in work. The names of common roles in projects and organizations are typically names of professions (some occupations/methods/"types of work," increasingly specific as labor is divided more deeply) "manager" and a narrower scope of tasks the job solves "operations manager," a classic "iron" system engineer and a narrower system architect, a salesman and a narrower account manager (handling large clients and opportunities to close deals with those clients). This is what division of labor is all about. An artist, a narrower circus artist, and even narrower animal trainer—specialties are becoming increasingly specific. Roles are never job titles, there are no "leading performer" or "chief performer," roles indicate the used work method—they do not indicate the degree of mastery of the agent-performer of the role in the work carried out using that method, or the rights of the agent-performer in executing such work involving some resources.

In various engineering (hardware/software engineering, personality engineering, organizational engineering, community engineering) projects, it is necessary to model the position and level of mastery of all agents as thoroughly as possible in writing. The competence of the role performer in the project may or may not correspond to the required role; "It's a mess if, in your project, an agent with the skills of a shoemaker ends up baking pies, and a pastry cook wind up making shoes." You can easily imagine the taste and harm of such pies.

Always distinguish the person and their role in the project: assess whether a performer fits a specific role by the degree of their mastery/competence in the work methods of the role they play but also by their focus (role-playing skills—as what good is a piano player if they can't sit at the piano for more than five minutes?). Hence, at all meetings and when reading all project documents, you need to understand separately:

  • what method the role performer should use, where this method is described,
  • their culturally-conditioned role, how it can be named,
  • whether the role performer takes a position or is "escaping" from positioning, requiring leadership as a method to help in holding the role/taking the position,
  • the level of their mastery in executing the work method of the role they should play, and how skilled you are in applying this method to assess their level of mastery.

This understanding should be fully conscious and it is desirable to document it, as keeping all this in mind for multiple roles is difficult. Difficulties in documenting your understanding of someone else's role and even your own role and the selected work method often show a lack of careful consideration—"the dog understands everything but cannot say." The hand hovers over the keyboard but does not type! Remember the method of description (what table with types in the columns needs to be filled out), it can help.

A systems thinker should also clearly understand that usually, they also play roles in a project, and they have a certain professional/competency position; they are not a completely neutral person overseeing a skirmish. No, they also take on a certain role, but as a systems thinker, they do it consciously (taking a position in the Systemic Methodology is called "self-determination"—we would call it personal strategizing) and durably hold that position. The systems thinker self-determines/strategizes their work in the role. They also plan resources to show this position (that is, in a role stably and for the long term) mastery. After taking the position, they are focused, openly present it for ease of collaboration with them, and openly advocate their interests as dependent on the position held.

A separate problem is the transition to almost continuous personal strategizing (self-determination), as lifelong one-time role decisions for a particular profession are no longer possible nowadays, and it is not possible to do so just a few times; reshaping/strategizing has to happen all the time, always learning new applied expertise, constantly strengthening intellect, i.e., focusing on education.

Another problem is maintaining multiple self-determinations/holding multiple strategies, as roles in very different life contexts and varied life situations have to be occupied. What to do with self-determination/personal strategizing in modern times, not in the past century of "inherited professions," is detailed in the Systems Management course in the section on strategizing, as strategizing (determining the method/way of achieving certain results as the basis of work planning) has the same nature for individual and collective agents, that is, for people and organizations. Continuous and numerable strategizing/self-determination with regular changes in work methods, roles, and interests for successful work according to these methods is called "endless development"—it is necessary to comply with the continuously evolving surroundings.

"Claiming to have taken a position" does not mean automatically mastering the claimed work method. You can take the position of a saxophonist but play the saxophone very poorly, not knowing musical notes. So be careful when taking positions after strategizing; don't forget that to hold a position, you first need to learn how to act in that role, learn how to work, not just haphazardly but according to a certain method. "Hey, barge worker, do you need a crewmate?"—"No need!"—"That's right, or I would crew you!"