Four quadrants of systems thinking threats revisited (and complexity)

Some time ago I published here ( a four quadrant model of how we might ‘go wrong’ with systems thinking – with each corner creating problems for the field – but contributing something too – and corrective to bring them back to the middle. It is, of course, all dependent on perspective and boundaries and views.

Anyway, in light of the various recent ‘systems thinking is old and bad and complexity is new and good’ discussions, I am sharing a newer version which I’ve renamed the systems thinking and complexity minefield.

Left side errs towards ‘power to’ change the world and idealism, right side ‘power over’ and money, intellectual property etc.

Top errs towards the many and populism, but is likely to lose interest and move on / bottom to the personal, the few.

So top says ‘our tools are right’ (often not knowing there are other approaches), bottom is focused on ‘your tools are wrong’.

Thus we find in the top left the naive enthusiast who thinks whatever they’ve found will change the world. Their path to learning might be to realise the limits of their knowledge and see the bigger, tougher challenge ahead.

Top right is the populariser, who is buying a following at the cost of nuance. They can be confronted with ‘the robust old stuff’, the unsexy 20th Century approaches which are incredibly valuable, and have trodden the same ground before, to better effect.

Bottom right is the gooroo – they can be dragged into the swampy lowlands of actual practice.

And bottom left is the Systems Curmudgeon (TM), who needs to be led into application and acceptance of adopting practices that fit the actual context.

Which are you? Which am I? 😉

None of this is perfect and nobody really wants to be in the game of correcting stuff. I don’t like to be called a ‘gatekeeper’ on twitter (as when someone defined organisational development as ‘the practice of service design applied to organisations’), nor accused of having ad hominem attacks as my go-to along with straw man attacks (especially when they might be right). There’s a case for just making the case you believe to be intellectually honest (‘bearing witness’, I suppose) and ignoring those who seem off or just wrong… But it does muddy the waters awfully, some of the things people say in this field!