Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holistic Thinking vs. Mechanistic Thinking

Mechanical thinking focuses on “what,” and holistic thinking digs into “why.”

At industrial age, the mechanical mind is a “mainstream” thinking process to solve the problems via reductionism, it may work well because the business environment does not change so dramatically, and the organization or the whole world were running in a silo. However, digital means flow, hyper-connectivity and interdependence, the holistic thinking which requires interdisciplinary knowledge and systematic approach is on demand to deal with today’s over-complex business dynamic. What is the perceived difference between holistic and mechanistic thinking?  What are the characteristics of situations/problems in which we should adopt holistic thinking ( vs. mechanistic thinking)? When is the trade-off more beneficial in adopting holistic thinking versus mechanistic thinking?

Mechanical thinking focuses on “what,” and holistic thinking dig into “why.” Some are simply trying to solve the problem of "what works." Others may have more philosophical questions that get at the "why" of the issue. There are times when a mechanistic perception is quite enough and other times when it is helpful to look at the assumptions and values underlying the perception.‘Mechanistic' means trotting out some example / visualisation / analytic tool. 'Holistic' suggests a genuine sense of exploration and innovation. Without this one just has a more sophisticated mechanism. But an approach that is holistic in dealing with a sub-problem may reasonably be seen as mechanistic - if it achieves a straight-forwardness in its products - by a 'superior' holistic integrating process.  In terms of 'viewpoint', one does often need to integrate different stereotyped ('mechanistic') view points; it is the integration and search for new viewpoints that is holistic.

It must be a matter of perception, but it cannot only be that. It is a matter of influencing the mechanisms through which you actively engage what it is you are perceiving. Both holistic and mechanistic thinking are at least partially learned behaviors and rely on heuristics. the more systematic the approach to thinking about an issue, the more resources it requires and the more difficult it can become to communicate the products of evaluation to others. Holistic thinking also comes with a higher cognitive price tag. If there is little or no reward for the approach--recognition from others, ability to influence the decision making of others, etc.--then there is little motivation to engage a holistic approach to issue at hand. In that case, one would have to rely on intrinsic motivation.

As human beings, we can engage in any idea using paraconsistent logic. Difference vs. similarity; Difference vs Complementarity; Difference vs.Compatibility; Difference vs Paradox. Perception is situation/context based. If the situation is deterministic, mechanistic (reductionism) thinking is good enough as nothing will go wrong outside the determinism. We can drive 'mechanically' thinking about a problem in normal traffic. However, if the situation is very natural and fluid, with a lot of inter-dependencies, it calls for holistic or systems thinking. Do not think the concepts are mutually exclusive at all. It should be part of a holistic process to acknowledge and address mechanistic components of a system as such, but this requires subject knowledge and not too many have the interdisciplinary knowledge to link various mechanistic systems into a holistic whole. What often happens is that some tend to express the boundaries of their knowledge in terms of their preference for a form of holistic thinking that exclude an appropriate level of determinism.

Zoom in vs. Zoom out view: A mechanistic perspective is a zoom in view and works well in an already deployed/thought out system. A holistic perspective is a zoom out view and works well when deploying/conceiving /rethinking a system. they cannot be used for a common objective. You need a more holistic approach when you suspect (based on experience with similar problems) that there is no solution that will not cause you to reconsider the problem statement soon after. A holistic view can either be used to refine or adjust the problem statement so that it can be approached reductively, or (more challenging) one may need to take a more thoroughly holistic approach.

Applying different thinking to the different situation properly: Mechanistic perspective if used to conceive a system will limit the scope and dependencies of a system while a day to day running of system if observed through a holistic system will slow the feedback mechanism and dilute the failure factors....using a mechanistic perspective for day to day running of a system and for giving feedback to its holistic architecture should work good. A mechanical thinker would ask how can vehicle move fast and jams minimized and may come up with flyovers and ring roads while a holistic thinker may ask why would people want to commute and come up with a work from home system deployment. Both taking drastically different approaches to solving the same problem. It is about discussing the difference in approaching some issue (idea, problem, space, phenomena, experience, vision.. etc) in a systemic fashion or in a systematic fashion.
1+1 = 2: Mechanistic: (Eventually) Single Perspective. (the so called perceptions and different viewpoints eventually converge)
1+1 = ???: Holistic: Multiple perspectives, multiple disciplines, multiple minds; the best way to seek "holism."

Holistic think zoom out, but can also dig deeper to discover the big WHY -  it is not possible to identify any relevant difference between an excellent scientist and an excellent poet. Only mediocre scientist and mediocre poets are easily set apart.... ignorance of depth and lack of reflection is not isolated to any particular human activity.... and the opposite is also true. Holistic thinking is the type of thinking practice that appreciates how underlying complexity generates the features and phenomena of interest to practitioners (those whose endeavours directly bring about change in the real world) so that they can work with them accordingly. It is the practice that has the necessary abilities (context-relevant requisite variety) to engage with the extant flow of change in the world and shape it and influence its 'trajectory' in the moment - then you are really doing something useful. To do this means not only are you open to the possibilities of change, but also can sense significant indicators, reason about them and have the appropriate 'complexity worthiness' to act 'effectively' in the world. Then you could probably claim you are a digital master with 'holistic' in your ways-of-thinking and problems solving.   


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