How many systems thinkers were bullied at school? • Meaning Guide – Steve Whitla

a subject close to my heart…


Source: How many systems thinkers were bullied at school? • Meaning Guide

How many systems thinkers were bullied at school?

I hesitate to publish this, as I may be barking up completely the wrong tree, but I decided to just put it out there and see if it resonates with people. I’ll start with two (hopefully) uncontroversial points about the world of systems thinking:

  • Firstly, the world of systems thinking is surprisingly tribal and curmudgeonly. Once you get past the people using the word ‘systems’ to sound fashionable or dress up their existing consulting offerings, and get into communities that are properly embedded in the theory as well as the practice, it won’t be long before you hear disparaging comments about who ‘gets it’ and who doesn’t, and you’ll be asked questions by people trying to figure out which team you’re on. This isn’t universal, and things are definitely getting better, but the undercurrent is there. Irony: we prize thinking that can hold multiple perspectives in mind, but when we start talking about how to think that way, we struggle to hold holders of multiple perspectives in the same room.
  • Secondly, the world of systems thinking overflows with frustration that ‘no one else gets it’. You hear systems-led consultants struggling to sell systems concepts into organisations, employees who have caught the systems bug feeling isolated because they are seen as ‘thinking funny’ compared to everyone else, and a general despair that non-systemic thought patterns are destroying the world, but the world doesn’t seem to notice or care.

Now for the third point, and this is where I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb. It’s that a lot of systems thinkers seem to be carrying a disproportionate level of past trauma. I’m basing this on the small proportion of people I know in the systems world with whom I have a close relationship, so I could be wrong, and it’s hard to know for sure because it’s not something that people talk about a whole lot. So let me use myself to illustrate:

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