Category Archives: Systems Thinking

Sneaking in the Systems Thinking

Several years ago I started my course with the Open University in Systems Thinking in Practice. At that time it was pretty much new, I was on the first cohort for the Systemic Inquiry module, and the second cohort for the Systems Tools for Strategic Thinking module. I understand that, several years later, the modules are a great success and in high demand. And rightly so.

I suspect that like a lot of my fellow students, I set off with zeal of a convert. I foresaw that I would be changing the lives of those around me with the new tools that I was learning about. Armed with the new insight that I was helping to reveal to everyone that I would be helping to drive things forward.

Instead, I learned to keep ST pretty much to myself, to use it quietly in the background. I had hoped that colleagues, dazzled by what I was able to reveal, would clamour to find out how I did it. From that point I could share what I had learned. Over time the world would become a significantly better place as we understood how to do the “right things”.

The course is well behind me now, and yes, I frequently use a lot of what I learned to help me in my daily life. I still add to my Systems Thinking armoury through my own efforts  but my hope of sharing this stuff for the better  remains unfulfilled.

Why is this?

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“It depends …. ”

Oh, how we must like quizzes. It feels that every time I venture into the world of Facebook, I am exhorted to click on a quiz to determine what sort of something or other I am. It seems we want to be able to categorise ourselves, and quickly too judging from the few questions that seem to be able to measure and then categorise me in a matter of moments.

Whilst these quizzes can be a little bit of fun, as well as being totally useless, my concern is that this thinking actually pervades our working lives as well as that we have at home.

I work as an internal consultant, advising my business colleagues. Some of my work involves helping my various colleagues to understand situations they find themselves in. Outside of work, I also offer advice and discourse on a closed social network which is primarily for IT practitioners trying to help each other. In both these environments there are questions asked that frequently get answered with the same phrase:

“Well …. It depends…”

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Freedom? From Command and Control?

OK, I freely admit it isn’t the most original of titles being a paraphrase of the title of John Seddon’s book. Now I have to admit that I have this book on my bookshelf, and I occasionally pick it up and skim, but there is something about it I can’t yet appreciate and so I remain ambivalent to it.

No, the reason for the title of this post is because at the moment I’m very much involved with looking at the future in two different, but interconnected, areas.

girl-future-cityFirstly  I am doing some work on the skills we will need in the future for delivering IT in partnership with a gentleman called Rajeev Bhardwaj, by day an Enterprise Architect but also a cartoonist who keeps his artwork hidden away on his blog.

Secondly I am looking at scenarios for business models in ICT  as we increasingly use cloud services, and new ways of deriving information.

What is becoming very clear is that where responsibility lies is becoming an emergent challenge of these wider changes, but behind that simple statement lies a lot of complexity that can’t be ignored

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Is this the right room for a protest?


The purpose of a newspaper’s leader articles is to make points that the relevant editors might think could otherwise be missed, and this piece entitled:

Noisy protest drowns out the truth about fracking by James Quinn in the Sunday Telegraph is no exception.

So what about it has forced me to put finger to keyboard?

Well, for me at least, I see two points that the article raises in the final paragraph, both arising from my developing practice in Systems Thinking, where I’d beg to suggest that we’ve got our thinking very mixed up now, or even just plain wrong.

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Death to Venn Diagrams!

This post has been mulling around in my mind for a while now, but a question asked by a fellow OU Systems Thinking in Practice (STiP) alumni, précised as “Are there other Systems Thinking methods are out there that we could look at?”, has encouraged me to finally put finger to keyboard.

My question in return is “What counts as a Systems Thinking approach, method or tool?”

In fact it raises the whole subject of categorisation which may have been covered on the Open University course B823: Knowledge Management, but sadly it’s no longer running and so I can’t study it having instead to scratch around this area trying to find little nuggets that might help my understanding.

Categorising things can work well when the world is pretty static but, well, that isn’t really the case these days. But it’s not just the change of things, its the change of about their properties and value to us.

Our previous IT Director used to bemoan the fact that there wasn’t a “killer app” for the Blackberry that he felt was needed to drive adoption, yet it was the device itself that had become compelling, the “killer app” if you like. I’d suggest  suspect that in his mind he was looking to classify his Blackberry under some sort of category that he had such as “It does one thing better than anything else” but hadn’t recognised that it was a category that was no longer valid.

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