New Systems Thinking - Part 1: A refreshing way to find solutions
July 10, 2014
STOP! I know what's on your mind. "Systems thinking is so 'last decade' and it is more complex than it is useful. You'd need a master of science degree just to understand - much less apply - this complexity. So, please, spare me the rhetoric!" Well, I have news for you. Not only is what I am going to share with you in this article going to change the way you view systems thinking, but, I promise you, it will open up new ways of finding solutions that you will never want to put it down ever again!
What is systems thinking
It is the subject of understanding how a system is composed and how it behaves, especially in the event of a change, or shock, to it. Understanding the system requires one to map out the factors and link them together to show cause and effect in a loop rather than in a straight line. Loops can be reinforcing or balancing, and all systems have both. As a result, systems can get out of control very fast, but they can also stabilise over time. Systems thinking allows us to map all of these into a system diagram and understand its operating dynamics.
The "New" Systems Thinking
Whilst many people agree that systems thinking is important, they take issue with its complexity. Sure, those are very important and people like enthropologists can go crazy with it! But not all of us need that level of complexity in solving a problem, so we will take it a notch or two down, and boil the essence of all that into what we call the "New" Systems Thinking. (With all due respect to the many scholars who have developed systems thinking concepts, this is not meant to improve, replace, subvert, or belittle their work. We have developed this to help strategic thinkers grasp the concept of holistic thinking and advance ways to find better solutions.)
The premises of the New Systems Thinking are:
1. All situations reside within a system
I don't like to use the word "problem"; it seems to denote something hindering, something negative. I use the word "situation" for its neutrality. And we must be aware that all situations are part of a system. That is the natural order of things.
2. There are multiple systems
Let's take an example of dieting. This can be part of the "healthy lifestyle" system, "weight control" system, or "eating" system. If you want to find good solutions for your situation, you need to identify the right system.
3. The right system is the one that's aligned with your intent
We return to the primacy of intent. Use your intent to identify the system to study. If you are dieting to lose weight, then use the "weight control" system to identify your solutions.
4. All systems are impacted by push-pull drivers
We call the factors of the system drivers. And there will be drivers that reinforce the system (make it go in the right direction) and those that hinder the system (make it go in the opposite direction).
5. All systems are driven by a few "centres of gravity"
There may be many drivers in the system, but only a few are key. All interactions seem to lead to, or originate from, these drivers. They are the centres of gravity of the situation and the holistic solution for your situation lies within them.
6. Decrease the impact of hindering drivers and increase the impact of reinforcing ones
Work to decrease the influence of hindering drivers as well as to increase those of reinforcing ones. The centres of gravity will guide your thinking.
So we have set the stage to apply the New Systems Thinking approach to find systemic solutions. Tomorrow, we will dive deeper into the thinking, uncovering how to draw a system diagram (like the one shown below) and how to make use of it to find systemic solutions.