Friday, June 26, 2015

How to Leverage Systems Thinking in Persuasion rather than Reasoning?

Persuasion' is related to the form of reasoning - the form of selectivity in the presentation of data.

Systems Thinking is to see the interconnected relationship between parts and the whole, it’s the ability to study the forest for understanding the context of trees. It’s an important reasoning tools for strategy crafting and decision making. From communication perspective, what is the role of tools such as Systems Thinking in persuasion rather than reasoning?

Persuasion is the process of applying knowledge to effect a change in somebody else's mind. ‘Knowledge' is the way a person represents the world in the mind. 'Data' are just bits of recordings or messages that remain rather inert and useless until they act to change ('in-form') somebody's knowledge, and at that moment become 'information.' Understand the process of connecting several data items (argument premises) to effect a change in knowledge as 'reasoning'-- whether the change is occurring in your own mind or intended to change somebody else's mind -- 'persuasion.' If done in a careful manner, paying attention to the truth and plausibility of the premises, their support by additional 'evidence' data, and the 'validity' of the argument patterns, it can qualify as 'critical thinking.' Further steps include connecting the proposed connections of single arguments into a larger picture where they begin to form networks and loops, and morph this into 'Systems Thinking.' It's a continuity of mental representations rather than clean dichotomies.

‘Persuasion' is a form of reasoning that some call 'planning argument' -- a proposal (to do, accept, support something) by pointing out that doing so will have a consequence that also should be accepted, adopted, aimed for. That probably is not usually called 'persuasion' even though it follows the same reasoning structure as when you try to induce somebody else to accept the proposal. The reasoning then lists the premises that if accepted, will support the proposal. These premises could be 'new' information to the other person, but such that you have confidence that the person will accept it as true or plausible. Or it could appeal to knowledge that the person already knows, supports, but just hasn't seen the connection between them. The pejorative sense of 'persuasion' stems from the possibility of insidious use of this pattern: either omitting mention or downplaying of consequences that would lead to rejection of the proposal (because the negative consequences 'outweigh' the positives), or providing information (for example visual images) that suggest consequences whose pursuit, even subconsciously, are not 'proper' -- appealing to hidden, perhaps even illicit desires, or fears, but of course not overtly mentioned by the explicit argument.

The focus of logic and related disciplines aiming at finding 'good': A reliable ways to reason has mainly been that of understanding the world as it IS. In this aim, the criterion of objectivity is essential: recognizing the truth about what IS the case, how things do work, and in this, avoiding 'wishful thinking as much as possible: the reasonable person should be able to accept an insight about what IS on the basis of evidence regardless of whether the person likes or dislikes the state of affairs. This is the aim of scientific investigation: gathering evidence, data, to confirm or refute hypotheses about the world. Without thinking systemically, "rational" decisions can have unintended consequences. The assumption is that having considered these has led to a 'better' solution -- specifically, one that has a smaller risk of later encountering unexpected consequences. But systems history itself is full of examples of system models that proved insufficient because they did not include or consider -- some aspects that were introduced as significant later on. So Systems Thinking in itself is no guarantee that all factors that might lead to unanticipated consequences will be identified -- anticipated -- and properly considered. As any discussion of the concept of 'system' itself will sooner or later mention: any system model is necessarily limited, has boundaries excluding factors not expected (anticipated) to make a great difference in the system's behavior. So the question or argument must focus on the issue whether Systems Thinking is the only approach, or just a 'better' (the best available) tool to identify pertinent system factors. What evidence can be marshaled to support such claims? And finally: will that evidence be sufficient to allow the systems thinker to use the mere fact of having used systems thinking to convince or persuade the opponent of the superiority of the solution on this grounds alone? Question: would this make the opponent a systems thinker (even as the fellow might refuse the label)?

The other kind of reasoning is the reasoning we use in argumentation about design, planning, decision-making. Therefore, human purpose and motivation is of course essential. Arguments about a proposed plan or action, which is a claim not about something as it IS, but as proponent feels ought to be, and wish to persuade themselves and others of this as well. The confusion arises because the typical planning argument, when fully spelled out, consists of very different types of premises. This creates two kinds of pontificators about reasoning: one emphasizing or prioritizing the concern is or will be premises, and therefore the scientific / logical form of reasoning in dealing with such arguments as well. The other emphasizes the OUGHT-premise and its justification, and plausibly will perceive the reasoning involved as mainly one worrying about these human aims and motivations. The 'persuasion' aspect here becomes quite legitimate in that people will try to get others to accept a proposal by showing how it will achieve OUGHT-consequences the others will also accept once these effects have been pointed out to them.

Systems Thinking does not 'play a role' in anything - any more than a telescope plays a role in 'discovering' a new star. That 'discovery' is a mental model. The use of collaboration (not persuasion) or just rational reasoning comes through in "the choice of Systems Inquiry methodology that you use". Through involvement and collaboration, one can gain stakeholder commitment, in this manner they are "persuaded" to accept a change. We humans reason and persuade because we are habituated to generating our own mental models, we assume that things that seem to be evident to us ought to be the same to everyone else. Persuasion can be made with systems thinking through the choice of Systems Inquiry methodology that you use. That is, the way you go about a systems based change. For example, is it "top down" or participative? People are not "rational" beings, but emotional too. Conflict and beliefs are not just "rational," but also embedded into their feelings and emotions.

'Persuasion' is related to the form of reasoning - the form of selectivity in the presentation of data. It is an important step to get stakeholders’ buy-in either for strategy execution, change management, or almost any kind of business initiatives. By leveraging Systems Thinking, such persuasion will better connect the dots to gain empathy; broaden the horizon to convey a clear vision; and deepen into the big WHY upon the purpose and goals of what you are planning to do. It helps visualize the Big Picture to inspire and motivate; engage and participate, in order to achieve the expected business result.


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