What Is Systemizing (And What Does It Have To Do With Your Creative Business)?

The world of business is full of people obsessively driven to systemize.  Listen to almost any financial or entrepreneurial podcast, and you are bound to hear the word “system” thrown around numerous times.  It's a catch-all word for the hosts and guests as they refer to routines and habits used to maximize their efficiency.  

Furthermore, countless personal finance blogs are packed full of systemizing behaviors without even labeling those behaviors as such.

We casually throw around the words system and systemizing, but have you ever stopped to think deeply about what systemizing means in a psychological sense?  Did you know systemizing abilities may compete with empathizing abilities?

The Drive to Systemize

It is insightful to reflect on the positive and negative consequences of having a high-systemizing personality.

I formally studied systemizing in-depth after realizing my unchecked robotic nature almost destroyed my life. Resulting key understandings have enormously impacted my mental health and my relationships for the better.  

While math and numbers lend themselves most easily to systemizing (from engineering to calories and exercise), systems can easily be seen in more abstract structures (like poems, songs, mosaics, and anything where multiple parts need to work together to form a whole).

Regardless of where you use your systemizing capabilities, self-awareness may help you have a healthy relationship with this trait (whether you are creative, into money, or both).

Systemizing 101

Systemizing is defined as an individual’s internal drive to decipher rule-based systems, manipulate variables in those systems, and predict or control system outcomes.  

In neuroscience, systemizing is theorized to be on the opposite end of a continuum with empathizing.  It is currently assumed regional gray matter in the brain competes for these two processes.

For the sake of this discussion, empathy is defined as an internal motivation to understand other peoples’ thoughts and emotions and reciprocate with appropriate responses.  

In short, empathy is a process in the brain concerned with predicting the behavior of others while systemizing is a process in the brain interested in predicting and solving problems in systems.  

They compete.  And the result is one puzzle to your personality.

What Does This Mean For You?

According to research, systemizing and empathizing are on a continuum in the brain arising because of different concepts of truth where concrete reality versus subjective internal experiences.  There is a push by some researchers to use the Empathizing and Systemizing Model of the brain to increase awareness in therapists regarding mild autistic traits in certain anxiety-ridden individuals.

It’s not hard to see why a lot of people in the fields of finance, science, math, and engineering are excellent systemizers.  Less obvious, but equally abundant, are artistic systemizers.

It's somewhat odd to realize numbers and machine diagrams offer a brain-like massage of ecstasy for some people.  So do songs and paintings.  And for the right person, a budget is an input and output system with a lot of variables to tweak and daydream about. 

Whatever the obsession, anything that drives a person into extreme social isolation - even if its an extreme passion - becomes a risk more than an asset.

Unexpected Connections To Autism

According to research, the absolute truth and rule-based cognitive style of many individuals with autism may be at the root of their many social struggles.  

People not formally identified with autism may exhibit these struggles as well. Therefore, when low-level autistic traits are present in an individual, these may be the root cause of another manifested condition or personal struggle (for me, it was anorexia). 

My brain manages money and food in a very similar way.  Upon closer examination, I can see the same rigid rules continually trying to impose themselves on my art. 

When the outside world is overwhelming due to my hypersensitivity, I retreat and create abstract worlds to toy with.  I gain a false sense of control creating rule-based systems while daydreaming.  Some of these worlds have enriched my life.  Some of these worlds have been terrifying and full of paranoia.  All of these worlds have been in my head.  And music is an occasional byproduct.

As a consequence of these insights, my aim is to raise awareness of systemizing psychology.  It could be used for further research.  It could also be applied in a variety of settings, whether formal therapy or book clubs using bibliotherapy.

Are You an Extreme Systemizer?

A quick test was designed to help you answer this question.  However, I think this test is gender-biased.  While using it for my master's thesis, I started doubting its peer-reviewed validity. As more people have taken it and shown me their results, I don't agree with it.  I think it should be re-written. 

You can take it for your own insight, and if you would like to send me a screenshot of your results, you can help me gather more thoughts about its validity.

Here is a link to the test.

Please send your results in a screenshot to savvyhistory (at) gmail.com

All results will be kept anonymous.

The types of scores resulting from this survey range from 0-54 for empathizing and 0-56 for systemizing. Different numeric thresholds assign you to different locations on a graph where these two scores come together. Five brain-types are inferred depending on where your point is on the graph. Individuals can be balanced between systemizing and empathizing (Type B), lean towards empathizing (Type E) or lean towards systemizing (Type S). Other results include extreme empathizing (Extreme E) and extreme systemizing (Extreme S).

The EQ and SQ brain-types are a beneficial method for describing major and minor differences in overall behavior.

As I informally study the role of systemizing in the lives of those who run creative businesses, I hope to include interviews on this site in order to learn about the role of creativity and systemizing in mastering money and mental wellness. 

Do you think of yourself as an extreme systemizer or empathizer?  Do you think it is possible to be both?