Perhaps the most important benefit of systems thinking, as it relates to our way of thinking, is that it lets us grasp the notion that a lot of things in the world that seem immutable actually aren’t immutable—they’re just kept that way.
“By what?” You might ask.
By a systemic structure.
One of the key concepts of systems thinking is that “events” are generated by patterns of behavior, which are in turn generated by a systemic structure. This structure is predicated on certain underlying principles—certain goals and ideas that cause the system to have that particular shape:
Our experiences of who is “a runner;” who has “a runner’s body type,” etc., are no exception.
Continue reading My view? Everybody is a runner. Nobody is “a runner.”
All of us marathoners have a feared enemy: “The Wall”—that shock of exhaustion that always hits around mile 19. Those of us who are ultrarunners have gotten to know it better than our oldest friend. For some of us, it just might be our oldest friend.
We’re all beset by The Wall, until one day we outrun it, and it vanishes in the road behind us.
But why is The Wall such a shared experience? Why does it happen? And perhaps most intriguing: is it possible to find a way around it?
Yes. Systems thinking lets us explore recurring patterns of behavior, which is why it helps us to understand The Wall. The Wall isn’t inevitable; it isn’t “a fact of life” for runners. Most runners use their bodies in a particular way, and The Wall arises from the reality that most runners don’t use their bodies in the right way.
How many times have I heard a runner say, near the beginning of the race: “I’ll charge up this hill while I still have energy!”
Many. And that’s because the patterns of behavior that elicit such thinking are rampant. Continue reading Hitting The Wall: “The Tragedy of the Commons” in the marathon.
As part of my recent trip to Boston, I attended a Leadership/systems thinking workshop at MIT taught by Peter Senge. The goal of that workshop was to pair teams of Leadership Lab (or “L-lab”) students with various organizations of different sizes and scopes. Among the organizations represented were Caterpillar, West Elm, and OCP. This arrangement had a dual purpose: to assist these organizations in developing their sustainability initiatives through systems thinking, and to provide real-life learning opportunities and challenges for the students of L-lab.
I went as a part of NOS (Noroeste Sustentable), a small NGO based in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. My role as an attendee was primarily to provide support to Alejandro Robles, the organization’s director. This was, of course, an amazing opportunity to learn about systems thinking from Peter Senge. But I also went with “half an eye”—as I told one of the instructors—towards learning about the Leadership MBA they offer at MIT Sloan (and PhD opportunities, as well).
Systems thinking is a framework for thought and leadership developed from the multidisciplinary approach to engineering provided by systems dynamics. Systems dynamics quantitatively and qualitatively studies the components of physical systems, their interactions, and tries to model and predict otherwise unpredictable behaviors that occur from the complexity of the interactions involved. Systems thinking takes this discipline and and focuses on teaching people how to view the world in terms of a complex set of interactions, which are predominantly hidden and inaccessible to our firsthand experience.
Continue reading Reflections on the Systems Thinking/Leadership workshop at MIT Sloan.