Excellent barn-busting romp from ‘ComplexWales’ –
Tinkering with Thinkering
Stop! Just stop it! Now, right now! You know who you all are. I’ve just about had e-bloody-nough of you lot and your Tinkering with Thinkering.
Design Thinking, Leadership Thinking, Coproduction Thinking, Nudge Thinking, Anthropocene Thinking, Humanistic Thinking, Innovation Thinking, Lean Thinking, Complexity Thinking, Ergonomic Thinking, Behavioural Thinking, Creative Thinking, Positive Thinking, Safety Thinking, bloody Systems Thinking and all the other similarly pointless linguistic redundancies.
I’m going to start with Systems Thinking. That phrase has caused all kinds of bother, having been used over the years to mean all sorts of things: from a bit of Pot Noodle Project Management (just add water) to achieving some sort of Quantum Transcendence (a near-Buddha orbit). Arguably invented by the early Cyberneticians, the phrase in terms of its contemporary lexicon should be synonymous with Russ Ackoff, but similar phrases have been attributed to all kinds of clever bods over the years. Ironically in talking about systems, they were typically hidden away in the depths of their silos of physics, engineering, mathematics, biology, psychology, computation and philosophy going all the way back to a couple of ancient oriental geezers. I could write this solely in Lao Tzu memes, but way down at the other end of the thinking scale, let’s get something clear before we start. Peter Senge did not invent Systems Thinking and his bastardisation into all those rules and shared vision claptrap, has caused decades of painful top down abuse. Even if that’s not what he meant, that’s what has happened and if I could go back in time just for a moment, I’d ignore the genocidal despots and take out Senge. It’s that bad.
First of all of course, there were systems, lots of them in one form or another, then a few people noticed them and started thinking about how those systems actually worked. Then someone started thinking about people who were thinking about systems, who in turn thought about how people thinking about thinking about systems, were thinking and so on and so forth in an ever decreasing circle of navel gazing, in the pretentious pursuit of profundity. In reality that sort of thinking should be called metaphysics which albeit unfashionable, is one of the myriad ways of thinking systematically, that is Philosophy. Systems Thinking is not simply thinking systematically, as you can do that and legitimately invent all kinds of nonsense that has nothing to do with how the Universe actually works. And boy have we got some of that claptrap in close proximity to the word System: mostly spiralling around some happyclappy who has drawn their 5/7/9/12 point list of equivocal platitudes into a shape that they peddle furiously.
And on that note Systems Thinking is always peddled as something positive. Now, getting momentarily scientific, there are such things as closed systems. Ordered, teleological, designed, mechanical and controlled and there are concepts, methods and tools that are perfectly applicable in these sorts of spaces. Reliability, Lean and Six Sigma (Lean on speed) to name but a few, that are often collectively referred to within Systems Thinking. There are also such things as open systems. Complex, adaptive, emergent, alive and dynamic and there are very different concepts, methods and tools that are applicable in these sorts of spaces. Nonlinearity, storytelling and sense-making and these are also referred to within Systems Thinking. All systems are nested, I know, but trying to apply closed system methods in an open system, causes most of the organisational disasters that we are currently confronting.
The universe is made of systems, or at least that’s how humans – on average 1.9 arms + 1.9 legs + 1.0 thinking appendage – have come to know a bit about the universe, by studying its myriad systems. Traditionally this has been reductively; studying systems by breaking them down into their bits. Over the past 70 years however we’ve also tried to study systems holistically; by making sense of their cumulative effects. Go on define system, I dare you. Well, before you try, don’t get all het up as the best brains in the world so far, pretty much agree that there is no single definition of a system. There are some reliable characteristics and if you got two out of three, you’re probably right:
A system has bits that affect each other directly, indirectly and occasionally both and neither.
A system has at least one effect that is not present in any of its bits.
A system has a boundary that is typically where you place its proper noun, beyond which the affect and effect of its bits, are manifest.
In reality there is no such thing as Systems Thinking, it’s little more than a catchy phrase nailed to the back of a 70 year old bulging bandwagon.
Continues on link below…