Excellent article which I tihnk I’m going to refer to very often!
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 tendancies for now:
- continue humankind as usual (the 90%)
- embrass decrease/frugal economy (ie, consume less and less, the 9%) – in which I place initiatives such as The Commons
- embrass 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).
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*)
Next time people in your organization complains about a lack of time, have them count the marbles!
Well, based on a discussion here, I’m not sure, and both of them could well complement each other. Here’s a quick graph I did on it (sorry for the rough aspect, made it with the mouse):
I missed this one, but the results are interesting : http://fuzzzyblog.blogspot.no/2013/03/systems-thinking-usage-survey-2013.html
I’m puzzled by the top 3 reasons people are not learning about Systems Thinking:
1. Not enough time. Being deep into Time management and productivity, I can safely say this is the worst excuse people are most often giving. People have the time for a zillions different things in their life, like playing with their kids or reading a good old book. Not enough time usually means “I’m not interested enough to give it the required time to learn it”. Duh.
2. Poor quality of learning material. This one is highly subjective, and it mostly depends on the person and the material they find. Yet, when you don’t like something, you often tag it of being inappropriate when in fact you just don’t want to give it the required time. Back to the preceding point it seems. Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline is an acclaimed book on Systems Thinking (although it tackles only a small aspect of the subject), so there indeed are good materials available. If you don’t want to invest the necessary money (expensive books or courses), chances are you’ll only find lousy material. Definitely back to #1: “I don’t find it interesting enough to invest the necessary money”.
3. ST has no process or framework so it becomes too abstract and philosophical. Quick note: this question was asked on the Systems Thinking World LinkedIn forum and so the debates here are… well often abstract and philosophical. Back to #2 about lousy materials if you don’t invest a minimum of money. When you have a (deep) look at Systems Dynamics, SSM, SODA, CSH, or whatever else Systems Thinking method the group appears to talk of, you’ll find processes and frameworks. Moreover, the way ST is practiced is quite different from causal and linear thinking, ideas often going is many different directions. If you seek in ST what you’re reproaching in classical thinking, you won’t find it. But if you reproach ST what you don’t have in classical thinking, then of course, you won’t like it. This one boils down to me to “this ain’t like what I’m used to, so I don’t like it… so I won’t invest money nor time learning it”.
In coaching, it’s often the case that what a client asks is not what a client wants. It looks like to me we’re in the same case here: don’t ask people what they want in ST, since they don’t know their need or can’t explain it, or can’t see the point in using ST.
That was a very nice survey nonetheless, and the part about people who say of themselves they are systems thinkers is more interesting, IMHO… Go check it
This, I posted on the Systems Thinking World LinkedIn group:
I feel like I moved beyond ST methods (the one I cited in a previous blogpost). I was swallowed by Complexity and Ashby‘s law of requisite variety was the crack through which I came on the other side of the mirror.
What this means is: I recognize the complexity of the world and our (recent) capacity to acknowledge it. I recognize my own limitation to understand that complexity in a decent (short time) way: I simply acknowledged that I don’t have the requisite variety.
I also do recognize that people are structurally coupled to their own conditions and their own understanding of them, far better than I will ever be capable of.
So, my own ST way of approaching life is now to help people weave their own mental models with that of others (when they’re supposed to interact successfully) so they can co-build (ie, influence each other) a new one that work for both of them.
In any situation, the best strengths to use and the one of the people inside that very situation. So I help people weave themselves and make their co-intelligence emerge and address the situation.
The generic term for that is “strength-based approaches to change”, but, to me, it goes way beyond just identifying people skills and traits and using them…
Indeed, I think that the opposite question is valid too and even provides a hint as to one possible answer: “why do people using systems thinking don’t reverse to another way of thinking?”
A more general question might be “why do people think the way they think?”
When you work from a deficit-based perspective on life (that is, you have a vision or an ideal in mind and all you see are gaps between it and reality around you, that is, problems):
It’s easy to point out problems, but it’s difficult to solve them.
It’s difficult because you will want to fill a gap using things absent. Which is difficult obviously.
On the contrary, when working from a strength-based mindset, the situation is just the opposite:
It’s hard to point out strengths, but it’s easy to improve on them.
Because strengths are so easy to use, they are hardly noticed on first sight, especially by the person expressing them. For others, it’s a bit easier because someone’s strengths might look so different to one’s own mental model that singling them out is easy.
As for improving, well, the person exercising a strength needs to notice it first before being able to do more of it. But once it’s made visible again (using a slight shift in perspective, for instance), then it’s far easier to do more of it, because you know exactly what it is: you’re going to do more of something you already have done before. Compare this to doing something you never did or for which you’re not so good at!
As far as efficiency is concerned, I’d rather think a bit more beforehand to understand the strengths at play, and then act more easily afterwards, rather than the opposite (jumping straight on a problem but being dragged in acting out a solution to it).
Of course, there’s the middle path where you identify a problem, and then work out to find times when the problem was not present, what the corresponding strengths might be that made the situation better, and then do more of them. A bit simpler than strict problem solving, though still longer than pure strength-based work.
So what? Well, my conclusion is to just don’t damn look for problems in the first place. Just identify what you want more of because you just seem to like it, identify how come you’re good at it, and just-do-more-of-it!!!
J’aimerais réagir à cet excellent (comme toujours) article d’Alexis Nicolas. Alexis recadre le débat du but de l’entreprise, le faisant passer du seul gain financier à la proposition de valeur à la société : Le but de l’entreprise, au-delà du sophisme et de l’idéalisme.
Globalement je suis d’accord avec lui et viser l’apport de valeur ajoutée à la société (de manière durable !) me semble plus pertinent qu’un simple calcul sur les aspects financiers.
Personnellement, j’ai tendance à penser que viser des gains financiers sur le long terme peut être une bonne chose. Mais quand je dis long terme, je veux vraiment dire de manière durable. C’est à dire que si vous visez, comme Alexis d’ailleurs le remarque, les seuls gains court terme, vous appelez l’asphyxie par épuisement de vos ressources rares : talents, environnement et probablement clients (car vous exploiterez le filon le plus rentable du moment en oubliant la nécessaire adaptation pour suivre les mouvements de la société).
Mais je pense que lorsque l’on vise le long terme ou mieux, le soutenable / durable, d’autres éléments entrent dans le cadre de réflexion. On devient plus facilement capable d’avoir une vision systémique de l’entreprise. En effet, sur du long terme, on comprend plus facilement comment au moins trois paramètres entrent en compte et sont étroitement liés :
- les clients (qui fournissent la mane financière) ;
- les collaborateurs (qui réalisent la valeur ajoutée) ;
- l’organisation elle-même (management, actionnaires qui organise les relations entre les deux premiers).
Si l’on prolonge encore le long terme pour devenir permanent ou soutenable, un quatrième paramètre entre en ligne de compte :
- l’environnement (qui fournit le contexte dans lequel les trois précédents peuvent exister).
Donc, si à court terme on peut se focaliser sur l’un des éléments au détriment des trois (ou quatre) autres (puisque l’accroissement important de l’un peut se faire sans problème, bien qu’au détriment des autres), sur du long terme, il devient évident que les liens systémiques ont des effets sensibles, détectables, des uns sur les autres. Et l’on comprend alors comment les quatre éléments sont intimement liés.
Pour moi (et on me pardonnera cette analyse de cause sur un blog où l’on cherche surtout ce qui fonctionne), les critiques targuant la recherche du bonheur des salariés (par exemple) d’utopiste sont le fait de personnes ignorant les aspects long terme, consciemment ou non. Si conscience il y a, c’est probablement que l’appât financier court termiste est le plus important. S’il s’agit de simple ignorance, alors il est sans doute encore temps d’éduquer.
Heureusement, l’époque actuelle met l’emphase sur l’aspect environnemental et la soutenabilité de tous types d’initiatives, et l’on peut espérer qu’à défaut de proactivité, le pilotage systémique des organisations finira par diffuser de l’extérieur vers l’intérieur des organisations…
Merci de ton article, Alexis !
Thinking during commute the other day (should I have to live nearer my work, I’d be much more dumb!) I pondered how a better strength-based Plan Do Check Act loop could look like.
I find the current version of PDCA to be a bit too deficit-based and tainted of Command & Control. All too often we see managers or project managers deciding on a plan in their offices and rolling it over employees, without much consideration about what would work for them (they’re the ones with their two feet in the daily work, so they should know best). Sure, if you’re doing nemawashi, this doesn’t concern you. But not everybody does it, yet.
So, since we’re speaking more and more about complexity (hmmm, Google Trends on complexity is making me a liar it seems – a construction of mine?)… anyway, I came up with the following new version:
- Connect ideas of different people: who are they? what are their strengths? What ideas do they have? Aspirations? Opportunities they see? Results they expect?
- Select ideas that you (collectively) would think are the more interesting to try?
- Effect these ideas: go to the gemba and put them to the test of work. Measure heavily what happens of course (People side: does it enhance the work experience? Quality? Delays? Costs?)
- Reflect on what happened: what did you learn? What new opportunities do you now see? What hopes does this give you? What else?