Opening our minds with Systems thinking

systems thinking

Do you understand the picture?

If you’re looking at your goals and outcomes, what are the risks, factors that impact on processes and variables?

What are the driving dynamics in teams?  Your area of challenge?  What are the causes of this?

What kind of scenarios matter?  What scenarios that you have not thought about?

What are the dynamics between different people?  Things?  Factors?

Daniel Kim provides a very good summary as to what is systems thinking.  So how do I go about this and how does it help me?

Systems Thinking is suppose to be a disciplined approach to developing models to promote our understanding our behaviors, patterns of behavior resulting in events.

We’ve all heard phrases like:

‘If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’ or

‘If you do the same thing all the time, you get the same result.’

Systems thinking appears to provide a very rational approach to problems.  When we take a rational view of things, we would expect a rather rational answer or result.  What if the result is not rational?  What if the result does not make sense?  Or better yet there is no logic?

When we swing back and forth to try and understand why A leads to B, why A impacts C and how A resuts in D – we could take an optimistic approach as to how we explore and unravel a piece of puzzle as detectives and how we try and put it together again to understand the intricacies of it all.

We may discover patterns of behavior, ask we ask who are the current players?  The future plays?  The dynamics of current/future players?  Then figure out how to intervene, change – mottos, processes and way of thinking.

talkative man

According to the Northwest Earth Institute is a way of approaching problems by asking how various elements within a system influence another.

Summarised here:


1. The Event Level

The event level is the level at which we typically perceive the world—for instance, waking up one morning to find we have caught a cold. While problems observed at the event level can often be addressed with a simple readjustment, the iceberg model pushes us not to assume that every issue can be solved by simply treating the symptom or adjusting at the event level.

2. The Pattern Level

If we look just below the event level, we often notice patterns. Similar events have been taking place over time — we may have been catching more colds when we haven’t been resting enough. Observing patterns allows us to forecast and forestall events.

3. The Structure Level

Below the pattern level lies the structure level. When we ask, “What is causing the pattern we are observing?” the answer is usually some kind of structure. Increased stress at work due to the new promotion policy, the habit of eating poorly when under stress, or the inconvenient location of healthy food sources could all be structures at play in our catching a cold. According to Professor John Gerber, structures can include the following:

1. Physical things — like vending machines, roads, traffic lights or terrain.

2. Organizations — like corporations, governments, and schools.

3. Policies — like laws, regulations, and tax structures.

4. Ritual — habitual behaviors so ingrained that they are not conscious.

4. The Mental Model Level

Mental models are the attitudes, beliefs, morals, expectations, and values that allow structures to continue functioning as they are. These are the beliefs that we often learn subconsciously from our society or family and are likely unaware of. Mental models that could be involved in us catching a cold could include: a belief that career is deeply important to our identity, that healthy food is too expensive, or that rest is for the unmotivated.

The description is well described as the tip of an iceberg:



All these various, add to the understanding of what is happening?  What’s the problem?  In then linking it to the solution.  Going back and forth in how we analyse our current systems is probably what we already do, however to provide a framework to take a stepback, before synthesising the problem.

Perhaps a great starting point could be asking the most simpliest of questions:






So, shall we?





You may also like:

Randomness for Improvisers
Failing Successfully





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s