Systems Thinking — A Few Key Shifts in Emphasis, Part 2

OK, so after posting yesterday on Systems Thinking, encouraging shift in emphasis from parts to the whole, I laughed out loud, realizing I’d just divided a post intended as complete to Parts 1 and 2. So be it. It was a time boundary in place yesterday. Laughing at one self, or with one self, is good, right.

Here’s to continuation…

3. From Measuring to Mapping — We are living in an era that has quite obsessed over the ability to measure micro things. We have science that gives us tremendous detail. It’s pretty amazing. And, measurement through dissection doesn’t give us all of the presumed information we seek, nor fulfill a presumed ability to command and control through more precise measuring. Mapping on the other hand, gives us more of the landscape of the whole, which is what we are more likely to be missing. “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count.” — This is a pretty widely held maxim, and does have tremendous value. But the hope for many of us reclaiming an inherent mystery is to be in relation with the whole.

4. From Contents to Patterns — There are so many new approaches that have come from the study of complexity that offer a truth telling about the non-linearity of life, about the dynamic that is more than cause and effect. I continue to enjoy reading and learning about such things. These things point us to seeing patterns that won’t be replicated exactly in other circumstances, that aren’t portable as snapshot or as content. It means that many of us need to learn to develop an ability to see the patterns, the forest, not just the trees.

5. From Quantity to Quality — I come from a social science background. I studied organizational behavior and psychology. I was very interested in sociology and ethnography. Most of the research that I was involved used qualitative approaches. It was / is collecting piles of information and stories to begin to notice patterns. Or, even more commonly, to engage people in a conversation that asks them to speak some of what they know to a subjective question — so that we can all listen and learn from the words spoken and work with what is arrising. It’s less math, though seductive that remains. It’s more art gallery, though messy that remains.

Well, there’s a bit. It feels fruitful to continue to invoke and invite this awareness together. It’s part of remembering a better way of humaning and community together. And that — better ways of humaning — is the work behind the work that I would suggest we are really up to.


Systems Thinking — A Few Key Shifts in Emphasis, Part 1

Photo Credit, Margaret Wheatley

For many years, many of us have been learning to see and work with systems as groups. Many of us have been learning, or re-learning, systems thinking. Many of us have been challenging ourselves to an imagination of seeing more of the whole. Many of us have been wrestling our ways through interrupting deeply engrained societal and organizational patterns of dissect, divide, predict, command, and control.

Oy! That’s quite a sentence, these interruptions that so many of us support — no wonder it can be a bit tiring.

Lately, I’ve been revisiting some materials I have that help make some basic yet clear points of differentiation in systems thinking. These are all about shifts in emphasis that help stir us into, what I would suggest is more fruitful ways of thinking and practicing. I’m grateful to Meg Wheatley and Myron Rogers for feeding and developing such thought.

  1. From Parts to Whole — Yup, this is the basic point. Can we come to see the team (or the organization, or community, or family) as an entity itself. I’m particularly grateful for learning The Circle Way over the years with this emphasis. So many times I’ve felt that when we begin to speak into a center, depositing our insight and wonder, we are forming not just a collection of parts, but an entity in which “parts” begin to make less sense. We seem to source from something more than any of us as individuals.
  2. From Objects to Relationships — I love this emphasis because it moves us away from being “thing-oriented” to being “relationship-oriented.” In a recent conversation with a good friend and colleague we were talking about the primary purpose of some work we were doing / teaching together. We both affirmed together that we were trying help ourselves and others engage in a relationship with the material. It’s not a one time thing. It’s an ongoing curiosity. That’s around material and content. This emphasis, however, applies deeply to people in relationship also (don’t forget the whole above). It feels, increasingly, that in times of complexity, that’s when we need more relationship, not less. When we need even more to be alert to our slippery sliding back to the comfort of thinking “things.”

Well, there’s a start. More later this week.