Appreciating Systems

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Christopher Alexander Fifteen Properties of #Wholeness applied to Mental Models #systemsthinking

It’s been a while since I’ve been pondering the fifteen properties of wholeness as expressed by Christopher Alexander. Although I have yet to read one of his book, his work has transpired up to me already through the well know pattern languages.

Being found of Systems Thinking and the transdiscplinarity this permits, I couldn’t help but wonder how these 15 properties could apply to mind and mental models as well, and how it could inform our feeling of wholeness or explain when we feel like being one and belonging to a bigger, encompassing one as well. Sounds like spirituality to me, although I consider myself an atheist!

Of course, feeling also attracted to radical constructivism and social constructionism, I can safely affirm that you both are influenced by what you distinguish in the world around you and that you construct what you’re looking for. So, I hope the interpretation I give below (which is purely empirical… or my own construct) may be useful both as a way to construct that feeling of wholeness than as a way to find where it may exist when you didn’t feel it in the first place. Now, back to constructivism: where’s the difference between building and finding-and-constructing at the same time?

Here is my inner travel through the fifteen properties of wholeness. Fancy a trip with me? Here we go… Read more »

#DSRP from @CabreraResearch: a way to order and procedurize it?

January 28th, 2015 Posted in Systems Thinking Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been a big fan of Dr Derek Cabrera “DSRP” generic systems thinking tool set and approach. Along with Dr Laura Colosi, they developed the concept into a full range of approaches to teach children how to think better: Cabrera Research.

As fan as I may be of theories, I also like a good putting in practice of them, and DSRP comes in just as a handy way of “doing” Systems Thinking, or, as one might put it, “Systems Doing”.

But first, a bit of a reminder of what DSRP is and what it does stand for.

What “DSRP” is

DSRP first appeared, I think, in Dr Derek Cabrera PhD thesis near the end where he studied the different flavors of Systems Thinking (eg. this one) and came to the conclusion that there are now two similar methods or even definitions of what Systems Thinking or how to “do” it in practice. And so he proposed these four letters and the corresponding generic questions (page 170 of the thesis: “The Minimal Concept Theory of Systems Thinking (MCT/ST)”):

  • D stands for “Distinctions”: what something IS and IS NOT, given the fact that once you decide one, you de facto decide the other as well. Incidentally, this looks like what George Spencer-Brown also does with his initial distinction being perfect continence (in “Laws of Form“) – I’ll come to this below
  • S stands for “Systems”: what it is COMPOSED OF, and what it is A PART OF
  • R stands for “Relations”: what it IS CONNECTED TO, and what IT CONNECTS TO (seeing the thing as a relation)
  • and lastly P stands for “Perspectives”: what does the things BRINGS as a perspective, and what OTHER perspective can be considered to look at the thing.

What I propose is that we make some little change to the order of the four letters because I feel like there’s a progression in them and that some other view might be more natural, if not powerfully generative.

Moving from DSRP to DRSP

I just propose we switch the S and R to make that DRSP. Although the four letter indeed, in my mind, form a system to build system in one’s own mind, I find it works better the following way. Beside, I’m not sure Dr Cabrera had a specific order in mind when he proposed it. Here how it goes for me:

  • First, there’s a general Distinction, which makes it clear what is the thing, and what “other” is with respect to that thing. From a 1st order systems thinking, we can stick to that simple explanation, but from a 2nd order perspective (the one that takes the observing observer into consideration) we must remember that a specific perspective is at play behind that initial distinction, something George Spencer-Brown himself seemed to introduce in his later updating of Laws of Form, in some annexes with the re-entrant principles.
  • Then, once that initial Distinction has been made, there’s a necessary Relationship established between One and Other, because of the distinction (the mark) between them.
  • And here we just pause now (that is, without pursuing our Distinctions of the initial element or of the relationship itself), then we can say we have a System, made of the One and the Other, connected through their Relationship.

Now, we continue our investigation, and surely enough, some other Distinctions will be made, along with the drawing of Relationships between the new ones and the preceding ones, whether they are at the same level or at a lower (distinction of an element into smaller entities, giving visibility to a smaller sub-system) and bigger ones (identification of a super-system). Lastly, once the initial investigation is finished, we have:

  • an overall Perspective represented by the whole DRSP analysis we have. It’s now then time, of course, to question all elements of it (DR&S) and see if each one might not bring new insights to further refine the picture, and also ask other people what their own individual perspective might want to have added to the picture. Hint: inviting stakeholders of the issue or system modelled is always a good idea…

So here we are now with a beginning of a method to “apply and use DRSP”. Ask questions about each one of the four letters to build and refine a system of interest. When the work is finished, it’s still possible to consider the whole as an element in itself and ask: if this element is a Distinction, what is Other? What relation stands between this One and Other? And of course, there will be a final time when it will be worth considering the question: whatever Other there is, we decide we stop there and will work out a solution or whatever needs to happen for the modelled system from only the component we brought forth through our DRSP questioning.

So, of course, there are a huge number of systems thinking methods, all of them featuring advantages, some even trying to unify the field (like in Michael C. Jackson’s Creative Holism for Managers: Total Systems Intervention) but not all are (IMHO) as easy to use as Dr Cabrera’s. So when you need to answer that spontaneous question “But how do you do systems thinking?”, now you have a simple 4 letters, easy to memorize, approach.

 

Reblog @SSIReview: The Dawn of System Leadership – #systemsthinking #stwg

First systems thinking reading during commute this year, and it’s already an excellent paper from SSI Review “The Dawn of System Leadership“. Thorough and with gems inside, I can only urge you to reserve some time to read it (it’s longer than a classical blogpost, but it more than deserves the time invested)!

The Core Capabilities of System Leaders identified in the article are:

  • the ability to see the larger system;
  • fostering reflection and more generative conversations;
  • shifting the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future.

The article also mentions Appreciative Inquiry, which is quite rare in the systems thinking field not to be mentioned.

Also mentioned is Otto Scharmer’s “Theory U” which starts with three openings:

  • opening the mind (to challenge our assumptions),
  • opening the heart (to be vulnerable and to truly hear one another),
  • and opening the will (to let go of pre-set goals and agendas and see what is really needed and possible)

Ironically (well, maybe not so in the end) is the link I made in the past between the Strengths of people and Simon Sinek’s three circles in this blogpost and the work we’re developping with Alexis Nicolas in the Labso (laboratory of social technologies) (in bold are the new additions to the previous article):

  • Why <–> Purpose <–> Vision (heart) of where you want to go
  • How <–> Mastery <–> Ideas (mind) of how to get there
  • What <–> Autonomy <–> Experience (hand) that proved to work in the past that can support you going forward

2015 seems to be off to a very good start!

What the #ebola pandemic reveals (again) about the world systemic vulnerabilities – #systemsthinking #vsm #labso

Out of a discussion on LinkedIn, I wrote the following:

Regarding the Ebola pandemic, at first we, the outsiders of Africa, didn’t notice, then we didn’t believe, then we didn’t invest, then we weren’t prepared, then we’re stuck by the huge implications of what might happen, then bounded rationality kicked in and we blinded ourselves to what ought to be done.

Sounds like a reinforcing loop (the epidemic archetype) running faster then the structural adaptation of the minds (cf. works of Maturana & Varela) getting progressively (though exponentially) involved in the system at play.

It seems to be our modern living habits (cheap international travels – flights, trains, cars), dense inhabiting zones, etc have created systems into which both information and viruses spread faster than the speed at which we can think, adapt and react.

This conclusion, for me, supports the idea that we need to change the way we address that high-speed complexity (high interconnectedness). More than ever, we don’t have the requisite variety to tackle it, whether static or, now, dynamic.  More than ever we need skills in facilitation of big groups to achieve collective intelligence. This is what we’ve tried to do by creating the Labso, Laboratory of Social Technologies: showing people how easy it is to tap into the power of the crowd and social networks by uncovering what works and why and making more of it, if not co-creating something bigger.

I hereby also predicts that this won’t be enough in the near future, on two accounts:

  • connectivity will continue increase both in the number of connections and in the speed (because of technology)
  • AND because by going to mass facilitation, we’re just solving a short term problem and contributing to the acceleration as well.

My personal solution to the near future (or present situation for some problems) is to accelerate further by sticking close to the geographical area, trust it to handle the local situation properly, and only signal/ask for help “upwards” when the need arises.

Sounds like a global Viable System Model to me, don’t you think?

Reblog: Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we’re nearing collapse | Cathy Alexander and Graham Turner @systemsthinking

September 2nd, 2014 Posted in Systems Thinking Tags: , , , ,

#systemsthinking Might humans higher intellect be the cause for the announced doom?

The Club of Rome and “Limits to Growth” book have warned us since when I was born that without a drastic change, humanity is doomed. Indeed, a point of non-return was passed over in the 80s, so we I guess we all have to cross fingers and hope for an innovation to save us all.

Meanwhile, I was thinking out loud on LinkedIn/Systems Thinking World and happened to have posted the following, which I think might be of interest to readers of this blog.

I think there’s a system at play in humans on a second level that is absent in animals (and insects) [the discussion was about Insect Economies]

Animals interact on a ground level with their environment and are structurally coupled with it (Maturana). When there’s food available, they use it. When the resource is exhausted or below a *practical* level corresponding to their natural ability to gather/use it, they just stop, either through migrating to better places, which indeed let time for nature to rebuild itself or they breed less, or even they disappear altogether.

Humans on the contrary are able to adapt themselves to a higher level to their environment. When their usual way of using resources isn’t sufficient enough, they invent/innovate a new/different/better way of doing it, and exploit the resources further (usually through tools). The result is that nature goes beyond a point of being able to regenerate itself (overshoot and collapse? Mentioned here). When we achieve this point, we usually either move elsewhere (find a new oil natural tank) or innovate to use another kind of resource.

Indeed, it’s always a search for more, with (as far as I noted for now) more and more negative longer term consequences.

So, from a systemic perspective, I’d say that what allowed humanity to prosper up to now is its capacity to think at “upper” levels and have a new kind of adaptation to change, where animals are more limited. It might well be what will put humanity at risk in the longer term, unless we evolve one layer further up.

I thus see 3 tendencies for now:

  • continue humankind as usual (the 90%)
  • embrace decrease/frugal economy (ie, consume less and less, the 9%) – in which I place initiatives such as The Commons
  • embrace thinking to a higher level (the 1%?): systems thinking, the human project (http://www.thehumanproject.us/) and similar.

Despite being attracted with the third option, I’m wondering whether this direction is the good one given that it showed such poor results to date (incredible progress but with an exhausted planet in the end).

Comments?

How to break the first rule of #systemsthinking via thinkpurpose

Here’s a nice blog post about the Vanguard Method (it calls itself “systems thinking” which I don’t quite agree, but hell, the result’s good, so who really cares? Besides, nobody really knows or can define what ST *is*)

How to break the first rule of systems thinking | thinkpurpose.

Next time people in your organization complains about a lack of time, have them count the marbles!

 

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