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What we see depends mainly on
what we look for.

– Sir John Lubbock

 

 

 

 

An Example of a Systems Thinker

Donella (Dana) Meadows talks about what's needed for sustainable change

 

 

 

Why use Systems Thinking?

Because UNDERSTANDING SYSTEMS
IS ESSENTIAL FOR CITIZENS OF ALL AGES.

It's why I teach and write about systems, systems thinking, and how to teach it to children and adults. It's also why all of my organizational consulting work is based on a systemic perspective. Read on to see why it may be useful to you.




Sometimes, our actions give us results that are positive in the short run, but have long-term negative effects on other parts of the system (which we may choose not to pay attention to because we're so pleased by the immediate results). Have you ever fasted to lose a few pounds? Or known of lay offs that were justified as a 'cost-cutting measure'? While neither of these actions are necessarily dire, they both favor short-term solutions. Systems thinking invites us to consider perspectives that consider both short-term and long-term consequences..

At other times, systems appear to be 'broken' (like a system of education, or healthcare), or 'out of control' (like a financial system) or in decline (like an ecosystem). Looking at it through the lens of systems thinking, we can see that simples are simply 'doing their job' in that they work the way they are structured to work (either intentionally or unintentionally). It's like the quote:

"Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it produces."

– W. Edwards Deming

This is not intended to be cynical. Quite the opposite: systems thinking helps us see OUR role in the bigger picture, and our potential for high leverage change. Systems thinking pulls us out of the specific into the patterns and structures of the systems in which we live. Rather than looking at issues as discrete and siloed entities where causes from 'out there' are 'happening' to us, we see how we may be part of the system under analysis and thus part of a solution.

We are all embedded within multiple systems: families, communities, organizations, ecosystems. Each of these are changing every day, whether or not we pay attention to how they are changing.

Once we can understand how and why a system works, including the relationship of its parts and its behavior over time, the better we can make decisions about impacting the systems of which we're a part.


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