systems thinking

Leyla Acaroglu has an excellent post on Tools for Systems Thinkers: The 6 Fundamental Concepts of Systems Thinking.

“In this series on systems thinking, I share the key insights and tools needed to develop and advance a systems mindset for dealing with complex problem solving and transitioning to the Circular Economy … *There are way more than six, but I picked the most important ones that you definitely need to know, and as we progress through this systems thinking toolkit series, I will expand on some of the other key terms that make up a systems mindset.” —Leyla Acaroglu, 2017-09-07

These are practical tools to improve anyone’s practice of personal knowledge mastery and I look forward to the rest of the posts in the series [scroll to end]. I have taken the six tools and added how they can be used in PKM.

Interconnectedness: Set up diverse sources of information. Use a tool like Twitter to get perspectives from different cultures, industries, countries, genders, and ages.

Synthesis: Establish a way to put your thoughts together. It could be a synthesis of the tweets you found interesting on twitter, such as my Friday’s Finds. You won’t find connections between the dots if there are no dots.

Emergence: The more connections you make, on social media, while walking, or just sitting and observing then the greater the chances for emergence, or even serendipity.

Feedback Loops: Engage with a diverse group of people. Get feedback not just from your peers but work in the open to get feedback from all corners. Blogging is the perfect medium for this.

Causality: In complex systems we can determine the relationship between cause and effect only in retrospect. This means we have to first engage the system and then learn from it. The next time things may be different. In the Cynefin framework it’s called Probe > Sense > Respond.

Systems Mapping: System maps are great for sense-making. As the statistician George Box said, “All models are flawed, but some are useful.” You won’t know how useful your systems maps are until you make them and use them. Be ready to discard them when no longer useful. Keep them in a state of perpetual beta.

Subsequent posts by Leyla Acaroglu on Systems Thinking

Getting into Systems Dynamics

“Systems dynamics is a huge field, and it can be overwhelming*(4)— but the main points to start off with are that systems are constantly changing. They can be defined by boundaries, but are dynamically interconnected and they can be explored through stocks and flows.”

Tools for Systems Thinking

“There are many ways to map a system, such as behavior over time graphs, causality maps, and feedback loops. The latter is very popular as a way of explaining how a system works. I am specifically interested in applying systems thinking to problem solving and examining how it can lead to much deeper levels of understanding than a normal research or exploration process can — especially in design thinking, where the need to solve is often very strong. But, we need to understand before we can build. This is why systems thinking and mapping tools like this are fundamental to the Disruptive Design Method, and can also be easily applied to any creative problem solving objective.”

Systems Archetypes

“Archetypes are recurring patterns of behavior that give insights into the structures that drive systems. They offer a way of deciphering systems dynamics across a diversity of disciplines, scenarios, or contexts. Think of these archetypes as the storylines of systems in the world. Just as you can identify the same formula for a romcom or a thriller in a Hollywood film, these archetypes help systems thinkers see behaviors and flows in more concrete terms.”

From Insights to Interventions

“An intervention is the act of intentionally seeking to shift the status quo of a scenario, situation or system. From a system’s perspective, not all interventions are good nor equal. When you try to make change in a dynamic, constantly evolving system, there will be push back. You can get your desired outcome, but along with what the system wants to do. I have crafted these seven steps to help you tackle systems intervention design in a way that avoids unintended consequences, and can maximize the positive outcomes.

In order to shift the status quo of a problem arena, we must first deeply understand what is going on below the surface, at the systems level. All too often, we rush to solve in order to get the reward of success — and before we know it, the problem has popped up again, perhaps in a new place or shape.

That’s why systems interventions must be based on a systemic understanding of what’s going on. You will never know everything, but the energy invested in the mining phase to develop insights will pay off when you begin designing interventions based on discovering non-obvious parts of the system.”

Designing Circular Systems

“Designing for circular systems is about considering the full-picture perspective of how the status quo of the natural, industrial, and social systems play out, and then uncovering ways of shifting these to facilitate circular and regenerative outcomes.

In some cases this is extremely complicated (like how to circularize spent nuclear rods, for example), and in others, it’s a no- brainer (like how to change our collective addiction to disposable items like coffee cups). But all of the systems changes we need to design have the same basic elements: people, products, places, and processes. They can all be redesigned to maximize benefits and minimize negative externalities.”

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