Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How to best strengthen your systems thinking muscles?

System thinking encourages learning, questioning, analyzing & synthesizing, and exploring the multiple perspectives to understand things in profundity. 

Some people are satisfied with the first thing that comes to their mind, some dig deeper. When the digital world has become over-complex and so ambiguous, systems thinking needs to be a mainstream mindset. Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things, regarded as systems, influence one another within a whole (Wikipedia). How does a "Systems Thinker" think differently than a non-systems thinker? And how to best strengthen your system thinking muscles?

Never stop asking questions and start asking them as early as possible. Whatever is said is said by an observer: so question what others say, question what you say, question what everybody seems to assume (or not) from what others say, question the hypothesis, and question the facts too.  The simple, but open-ended questions such as: "what else?" can frame the thinking in a systematic way: 
- did I overlook 
- should it be distinguished 
- Which system should I consider? 
- Which perspective should I consider? What perspective am I taking that might blind me to other things I could have distinguished otherwise
- What makes them (perspectives/models) what they are 
- 'What happens if?' 'How would that affect this?' Do we agree this is the reality?' 'WHY!?

A system thinker can see the patterns others may not, such as: 1) See the invisible behind the visible 2) See the connections and interdependence 3) See how things in the 'now' came from the past 4) See how changes would happen over time 5) What small change can be made that might effectively change the future significantly 6) What consequences can be created through actions.

Systems Thinkers is using Systems Thinking to understand problems. A systems thinker knows 
1) Correlation doesn't necessarily mean causation.
2) When things are not independent to one another they may act as a complex system, where simple logic can hardly help.
3) People always make mistakes, including yourself, and sometimes, including non-living creatures.
4) Things may fall into different levels, rules at one level may not work at the other level.
5) Act by gathering data and testing assumptions to validate their understanding before tinkering.

Systems thinking can help to create common rationale ground between different perspectives. Become aware of the hypothetical imperative for thinking systemically in order to act on the imperative by constraining possibilities while aiming at its ends.
1). Focus on emergence and emergent properties and how those are created 
2). Think holistically and synthetically, understanding the parts by reference to the whole rather than the other way round (which is classical analysis) 
3). Focus on the nature of relationships rather than just on entities 
4). Use of formal/explicit modeling of relationships/connections 
5). Model nonlinear rather than just linear cause and effect relationships 
6). Explore multiple perspectives - the ability to 'step outside' of the system and adopt different perspectives to gain understanding is also an essential skill of a ST
7). Ability to shift focus repeatedly and fast, from the whole to the detail elements and their relationships
8). Modeling about defining the boundary 

System Thinking is essentially a lifetime learning experience, and one never gets to total mastery. It encourages learning, questioning, analyzing & synthesizing, and exploring the multiple perspectives to understand things in profundity. 


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