Monday, July 6, 2015

Can Systems Thinking Predict Consequences?

When cross-functional communication and collaboration is enforced, Systems Thinking does indeed lead to predicting outcomes.

Systems Thinking is the way of thinking to understand holistically the interconnections and interdependencies between parts. The digital business ecosystem is complex and hyper-connected, can Systems Thinking predict consequences based on its in-depth understanding of organizational context and systematic view of business complexity, if so, why isn’t it used more? What are important factors for applying System Thinking to problems solving and decision making effectively?  

Highly complex cognition: One thing that seems often to be left unconsidered is that in order to leverage Systems Thinking, one must have grown a brain capable of highly complex cognition. This brings in the area of human development to explain why a lot of people fail to see the value of, make use of, or even understand system theory based information. One line of human development is cognitive complexity. Cognitive complexity is a multifaceted issue - there are different types of cognition, as well. Spiral wizardry is as much about a mental stance as it is computational ability. The trend line for this can level out very early for some folk, rise a bit through life for others, and for some, the trajectory never levels. It just keeps growing and growing until the lights go out. The highly complex thinkers have the capacity to get beyond, they can meta stance from their way of thinking and recognize it as unusual. From there System Thinkers find empathy is natural, other humans can't be anything other than what they are, and they can design for this complexity continuum in their work.

Cross-functional communication: There seems to have been a lot of work done from individual points of interest and little cross-communication between these interests. Using ST now could possibly highlight these inter-communication and planning shortcomings so those involved can understand the outcomes of various relationships/actions and use the learning in future planning, to certain beliefs, social groupings, motivation patterns, organizational dynamics, and goals. If we try to impose solutions or structures that are too far ahead of the curve, the result is alienation and rebellion rather than transformation. Too often, we intuit a "better" or "higher" mode of being without respecting the stages of change and development that must happen before large numbers of people in an organization or society can enact such a mode. There is a hierarchy involved, but it is more factual than evaluative.

Digging through Big WHY: Often, Systems Thinking (ST) can help you understand WHY perverse or ineffective decisions get made. It is often not because "they won't listen to you" or they "don't understand the problem." It's that the system you are seeing and the one they are seeing are fundamentally different: Budgets don't move between silos, the policy must be applied constantly, inner goals around targets or promotion criteria manifest themselves in what from the outside seem like poor decisions. Often these are rational given the circumstances. But when cross-functional communication and collaboration is enforced, Systems Thinking does indeed lead to predicting outcomes. This is especially true of controlling costs, scope creep, and associated re-work.

So Systems Thinking hasn’t been applied more often due to lack of talent. Systems thinking is a combination of talents and skills. It's rare. Also, Systems Thinking is not just an individual’s ability, but a collective business capability to break down the silo, harness the cross-functional communication and collaboration more seamlessly in order to predict business outcome and manage the organization in a systematic way.


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