Why bother with systems thinking?:: presumably because you want to understand!

Team interactionI absolutely INSIST that you read this excellent 3 part series on ‘Systems Thinking’ (ST).

I came to ST along a path from insurance risk, to complexity and resilience but it made so much sense because, well, that is the way my brain is wired! When I was younger I didn’t buy in to the conventional Business Management books because they just didn’t feel right but ST did and, although it can, as John says, make you feel like you are going crazy! However, when the message is spelt out in such a readable manner I begin to see where I (and others) have been going wrong in our efforts to communicate the need for and benefits of change.

I have been known to bang-on about learning lessons from Nature so it won’t come as a surprise to regular readers that I feel the need to quote Thomas Homer-Dixon. WHY?

Because I hope this illustrates that ST enables a deeper understanding of systems irrespective of whether the are naturally occurring or man-made.

“Societies become inexorably more complex as they try and solve their problems, this complexity costs energy, and over time, that complexity produces diminishing returns”

Please consider that engrained belief systems and the prevailing business culture are clear and present dangers for ALL of us. According to Alvin Toffler:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

If that isn’t spelling things out plainly enough for you, you may already be beyond help so I’ll let you get back to your cave drawing!!!

Analytical thinking is hitting the laws of physics* and has been found wanting.  The analytical mindset is at the foundation of our educational systems, our political systems, our financial systems and the business of business, all of which are reaching the end of their effectiveness in a world characterised by increasing complexity, volatility, uncertainty and ambiguity.  This is being felt by many, but the awareness of what underlies it is lagging behind, so in an effort to ameliorate chronically low employee engagement, increasingly low voter turnout at elections, poor customer loyalty, or low attainment at school, we deploy little tricks or try to invent new “tools” or “techniques”. 

However, all the tools and techniques in the world are useless to really address these issues if they come out of the same old mechanistic, analytical mindset.  A more sophisticated mindset is required first.  A new kind of thinking, not a new trick devised out of old thinking, is required.

A transition is occurring, however…

via What is systems thinking? (Part I) « quantum shifting.

* Feel free to consider: 2nd Law of Thermodynamics; Law of Requisite Variety; Principle of Incompatibility [Zadeh].


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2 Responses to Why bother with systems thinking?:: presumably because you want to understand!

  1. Jim Flynn says:

    Hi David

    Like you I am wired the systems thinking way and sometimes it can make your brain hurt, so In an attempt to spell it out to folks I produced a video a few months back that you and your readers might like on this very subject.

    See it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=s8Jic3-kwdk

    Best regards


    • Great to hear from you Jim, thanks for stopping by.

      I find it quite bizarre that Systems Thinkers seem to be perceived by many “smart” businesspeople as brainwashed acolytes of some bizarre cult or as business consultants with some new brand of mumbo jumbo means of ripping them off! This was one of the reasons why I was so delighted to find and be able to share John’s excellent series.

      I believed that communicating the message using a rigorous, tried and tested, scientific approach that enabled measurement and, therefore management of a hitherto ‘hidden’ source of risk, would be relatively straightforward…if not “irresistible”! How wrong was I!?

      Despite the enormous cost of failed risk & business management solutions for businesses, as well as the resultant impact upon the balance sheets of economies and risk carriers (insurers & banks), ‘old school’ experts cling desperately to the basis of the expertise…even when shown to be flawed, incomplete or no longer relevant. It would be commendable if it weren’t for the fact that it is so damaging at a time when we can least afford it!

      The problems are already huge, growing and spreading (contagion/systemic risk) through the unseen inter-connectedness of global financial, digital and logistical networks.

      I will be taking a look at the video once I wade through today’s ‘to do’ list! But I’m sure there must be scope for us to have a meaningful discussion about what a subtle blend of ST/Gael/Ontonix could develop…get your thinking cap on Jim-lad!!!


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