Kanayama Consulting

Transforming organizational life through trust

Filtering by Tag: systems thinking

The Best Underused Complexity Tool

In my previous post, I discussed how difficult it is to achieve organizational excellence with lack of integrity and trust, and management control (consciously or unconsciously) undermining positive dynamics. Self management is worth considering because it transforms organizations by eliminating structural obstacles to well-being at their source.

In this post, I'd like to discuss our other pressing need, omni-present in our daily existence, not just in organizations but especially prominent in organizational and community life. It's the problem of not having adequate means of understanding and describing what is happening. This stops us from overcoming challenges, because so often what we do to "fix problems" are not effective. It's discouraging to try and fail, and not know what is broken.

How do I know this is a problem? Because despite all we know and can do, most of us struggle to figure out what's going on and decide what to do about it. Because humanity, with so much potential, still suffers from violent conflicts, environmental crisis, poverty and inequity, human rights abuses, and the futures of our youths badly compromised in dysfunctional education.  

If we wish to do things of consequence to serve others, there's no time like now to be our best. To stand tall. To speak the truth. To act on what we believe. With my recent writings, I am modeling this ethos. I want to do my part to heal, create shared understanding, and act collectively with confidence.

What if I told you that there's a well-researched but underused way of figuring things out when you're not sure what's going on, individually and in your organizations and communities, that can help? That will put you on a path with conviction, and have you doing things you didn't think you could before? That may lead us to breakthroughs you never thought possible?

It's called systems thinking. It explains that cause doesn't leads to effect in ways we can see. That what we typically do in problem analysis of taking things apart (called reductionist thinking, basically how we all learned to analyze in school) may not serve. That small actions can have big payoffs, but you have to know how to look for places of high leverage. It's a way of seeing the world that balances seeing wholes and reductionist thinking.

Systems thinking is not new. It has its roots in early 20th Century complexity science and studies of cognition, the process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and our senses. Researchers, teachers and consultants started in the 1960s have applied it to understand and develop organizations. It's underused because it runs counter to what most of us were taught all our lives, requiring a shift of mind to learn. But all of us have a hidden capacity to incorporate this different way of thinking. We know this because children can learn systems thinking with ease.

Post-US election of 11/8/2016, a significant portion of the population is afraid, angry, bewildered, in mourning, questioning the very underpinnings of civil society, or all of the above. What happened in total is "triggering" - something the President-elect is a master at. Systems thinking teaches us that reacting without understanding how we contribute to problems can make things worse. It also encourages us to see processes of change rather than events. These points alone, I argue, makes exploring systems thinking a timely endeavor. 

One of the researcher/consultant, Peter Senge, wrote The Fifth Discipline in 1990. Here I contribute a synopsis of Part I of the five sections of the book. I'm writing more synopses to post in the coming days. Thank you for reading and engaging in this topic. I'm grateful for your comments and thoughts!