Category Archives: People and Systems

Systems Thinkers need a Posse

 

obeyAndre the Giant has a posse. Public Enemy have the S1Ws. Radicals throughout history had a crew, an entourage, a crew. The Misfit Economy by Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips details types of people who did things differently, from pirates to gangsters and hackers. And they all had a posse.

It’s hard to stand on your own, against the grain. People carry hammers to knock in any nails that dare to stick up. Sometime this is just a put down, a career blip. Maybe what you say means you can’t walk the streets without watching your back.

Clay and Phillips don’t mention systems thinkers in their book, but they are out there, from a voice in a dysfunctional organisation, to revealing the structural racism inherent in a dysfunctional society.

Some run towards the danger, up for a fight. Others see the danger and wait or give up. Seeing systems can be a hard, lonely place full of compromise and disillusionment. We need friendly people to talk to, who have been there, who can see the patterns that may be too close for us to focus on.

For a group who are arguably all about they way things connect, the systems community are a fractured bunch. Academia values novel research. Just connecting other people works doesn’t carry much weight. What should be a strong backbone of theory is a silo factory. Consultancy is as bad. There are people who attack others work as a way of promoting their own. Of course they need to pay the rent. The problem is structural as much as human.

We need a community, for support when it goes wrong, to build ideas, to talk, laugh and develop. Ideas are free, but alone I’m useless. I need to talk, how else do I know what I think? And sharing means more ideas, not spending my time defending what I have. We need safe spaces to think, grow and change. Safe from attack and ridicule, and safe from being used as a step to make someone feel taller.

What would a systems thinking community value, and how would our current interactions compare to an ideal that we can all theorize about, but we sometimes work to destroy.

Are we too fractured to have an identity?

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Why we need Models, and why it’s hard to change them.

  •  It’s 460BC. Your job is a map maker, and your maps show the world to be flat. You’ve a lockup garage of flat earth maps to sell. But you also like astronomy, and understanding the planets.
    • Is a model of a flat earth of any use? Is it good?  It was good enough for me to get to work, and to drive a cart to London.
    • But it’s not good enough for astronomy, you need another model.
  • You hear of the model of the earth as a sphere. Hmm, this fits simple astronomy, but does it make your lockup full of flat earth maps worthless? Which model do you believe? How hard is it to change your mind to a new more complicated model?
    • Is the model good enough? It’s great when thinking on a global scale – like where is Australia relative to where you are.
    • But maybe it’s a bit complicated for driving to London. A flat earth map will be fine for that.
  • From the international space station, is the model of the earth as a sphere good enough?
    • Maybe not. Gravity may be affected by the shape of the earth, and the movement of planets may need more complicated models. But perhaps you don’t need a model of the earth that shows the Himalayas.
  • Is that enough models?
  • What if you are cycling to London? A flat earth map won’t show you the hills, but a spherical model with enough detail is far too much information. You like to avoid hills, so you need another model.

Using the examples above, I think we can learn:

  • We need models. A model is a synonym for an understanding
  • Multiple models of the same thing exist at the same time
  • New models should compliment existing ones
  • We should use the simplest model we can, but no simpler
  • We need awareness of other models
  • Believing in one true model is an Anti-Pattern
  • If you have an interest in a model being true (like a business selling flat earth maps) it could be hard to learn a new model. The greatest resistance against a new, different model may be those who currently benefit from an existing model.
  • All models are wrong, but some are useful. Is the only up-to date model of the earth the earth itself?

This cartoon shows Calvin explaining his simple model to his toy tiger.

Calvin-Toast

This model of how to make toast is sufficient unless:

  • Calvin starts to sell toast in his yard and
    • He may be asked to contribute towards the electricity bill
      • “There is electricity and you have to pay for it?!”
    • He may have to buy his own bread
      • “Can’t I reuse the bread I just put in somehow?!”
    • There is a drought and the price of bread rises
      • “So I’m losing money on everything I sell?!”

Systems Thinkers love models. It’s how we understand the world, and different perspectives and contexts.

We can also see that if you insist on using a simple model, for example one that will fit on a napkin, or can be explained to a 6 year old, then you can only use it in simple situations. More complicated systems need bigger models.

My Strengths vs Your Strengths. Pleased to meet you. Let’s build something amazing.

 

We all have strengths. Some people are fortunate enough to find their skills and use them in life and work. Or we may never recognise what we’re good at, or find our skills are not required or appreciated. We’re quick to label the behaviour of others as wrong or stupid. We may not understand what they are doing, and why.

How do we recognise each others abilities, and talk about how we can work together? Can we understand which strengths we don’t excel in, and when they’re more useful than our own skills?

How do we recognise that some behaviours are strengths at all? People may be too controlling, too keen on harmony, can avoid facts to concentrate on ambiguity, or seem to enjoy the complications. I annoy people by abandoning plans at the first sign of a better way. Colleagues see my critical views as criticising plans to destroy them,  when I want to test and improve the foundations.

Recently I took the Strength Finder 2.0 online analysis to find my strengths. I found this through one of Tobias Myers posts. Tobias says a lot of great things so I though I’d see what insights came with this.

Out of 32 possible strengths my top 5  fit me pretty well, describing someone systemic, interested in ideas and learning. it also suggested I was a people person, able to understand and design how people can do things better. My number 1 is Strategy. Which means I can figure out a way to make it work too.

The 5 strengths were Strategy, Learner, Individualization, Ideation and Arranger. There are many more details available online and on youtube about these strengths. I’ve also started to create some mind maps of the strengths videos. Available on git. But my strengths are not the point.

For a few weeks after the test moved on, content with having some great new phrases for my linkedin profile. Then I realised this was a sharable understanding of how I work at my best and a way I can understand, appreciate and work with others. Boom.

I have no affiliation with Strengths Finder, the basic test is $15. I prefer open tools and ideas, but this tool seems so powerful, and I’m not sure it would exist otherwise.

I hope to get some colleagues to take the test.

If we can

  • talk about out strengths using a common language
  • understand the wide range of skills people have
  • recognise how we can work together, on purpose,

Then we can build amazing things.