Embracing Systems Thinking Workshops 2 August...

James Wood FBCS CITP

A big Thank You to everyone who attended the Embracing
Systems Thinking (ST) Workshops at this year's LAST conference!
I found the level of engagement and dialogue to be truly

I have provided the raw output of both sessions in this post in the form of a mindmap, I will take a little longer to reflect on the output and provide a meaningful pack that can facilitate the basis for continuing the dialogue, perhaps via Systems Thinking World. The orange themes represent the morning session and the blue the afternoon, the green themes were common to both sessions.

Download the Embracing Systems Thinking Workshops Mindmap (PDF)...


Here is the preliminary analysis for both morning and afternoon sessions. First we looked at the challenges for ST in our organizations, interestingly enough the main focus of both sessions centered around perception and culture as the main inhibitors, in particular:

Reductionism and the prevailing scientific paradigm to problem solving, which has a tendency to compartmentalize complex problems and thereby lose their cohesive and holistic meaning, which in today's interconnected global economy is far from ideal

The belief that things are black and white and that solutions are either this or that restricts our ability to accept that today the paradigm of "either, or, and" is more appropriate

Fear from uncertainty and the grey area, which tends to be the middle way with ST, the prevailing system of management almost always seeks certainty, which sometimes precludes the kind of "grey foresight" required for ST

Symptomatic problem solving fueled by the band aid / fire fighting cultures of many organizations, where only the symptoms of deeper underlying patterns of problems are addressed, allowing for a recurrence of the same problems year after year

In the morning session we got as far as listing out the basic themes for embedding ST, whereas in the afternoon we also touched on continual improvement with the Deming cycle and PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act). Sea of Systems explains PDCA in more detail. The interesting outcome for the embedding ST sessions was in recognizing that education and support of ST require our focus the most:

Systems Thinking 101 training for executives and management is required in order to improve the level of understanding and encourage managers to support ST as coaches and champions of ST

Team learning and learning from mistakes are pivotal in supporting the collective learning experience that supports ST allowing for a more open lateral and empowered approach to organizational development

Understanding our true mental models and intellectual capabilities go hand in hand with seeing the reality of our organizations and systems, this is about bringing clarity and objectiveness to cultures that can sometimes be opaque and muddied with incorrect mental models that prevent clear and effective decision making

Rotation of people and knowledge throughout an organization and engaging people in cross-functional working environments provide the basis for breaking down the silos and mobilizing the organization

In summation the main focus and commonality seem to be rather in the soft areas of perception and support as opposed to analysis and organization, which I must say I find rather encouraging! The full analysis and pack for embedding ST will come in due course.

There are certainly several high-leverage quick-wins we can take to get ST more widely accepted in our organizations.

Find out about the next steps with understanding the challenges...

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