What I offerSeptember 6, 2009 | 6:27 pm
The observant reader has noticed a change in the title of this blog. Do you see the change? I have changed it because I want to emphasize the application of systems thinking even more. Thinking high and lofty thoughts are not enough. I am interested in changing the way things are to the better.
One reader asked me: what do you offer? I gave it a thought. I like to solve problems and find new ways. As a consultant I have many years of experience of building IT-systems to solve problems. But there is a bigger perspective. Information technology can produce a lot of “waste”; information that does not add real value. They can also just reinforce bad ways of doing things. It is better to do right things than to do less of wrong things.
You are in a situation and you are not satisfied. There is a problem, an undesired behaviour or you want to move on and find new ways of doing things. How can you proceed?
When we are looking for solutions, we have a tendency to single out one or two possible causes and attempt to correct them. We fail to see the big perspective and because of this, our solution does not lead to long-term change. It is as if what we trying to change have an inherent resistance to change. After a while things revert to the old conditions or get worse. We fail to see that material and immaterial things around us: habits, machines, people, programs, attitudes and culture are connected to each other and form a system. Different parts of this system depend on each other and interact. It is the system that probably produces the undesired behaviour and not a single part, a single process or a single person. I can help you to identify the relevant perspective.
We have a tendency to focus on certain details (abstractions) for optimization. This can be negative for other parts and for the whole. What we call side-effects are ordinary effects, just like the effects we desire. The abstraction exists only in our minds. For example, we have focused on transportation and considered pollution a side-effect. But this “side-effect” is biting us badly now.
We need to increase the boundaries of the area we study and take into account the time factor. Systems have inertia and different parts interact through feedback. Changing one part might produce something unexpected in another part. Consequences might take a sudden turn and not behave as nice and calm as we thought.
We should recognize properties of connections and relationships as having real importance, just like the properties of the parts. Some strenghts only exist because of relationships. People are not like a container of competence that you can move around. We often talk about employees as resources. If you reorganize, have you considered what will happen with the relationships of trust within groups of people?
There are places in this mix of parts and connections where you can get the most long term change with minimal effort. These points are sometimes not so obvious and perhaps counter-intuitive. The discipline systems thinking calls these places leverage points. Efficient problem solving is done by studying the whole system and finding the leverage points. I can help you to find these leverage points.
Problem solving can result in a redesign of a system. It can also mean that we learn to navigate more efficiently in a system we cannot change. Actually we can control much less of our environment than we think.
How to do it
There is a practical approach of how to efficiently solve problems. It can be done with a series of meetings or modelling sessions where a group of people together with a facilitator meet. The facilitator guides the group through the process and together they co-create the solution. The outcome might be a process map, a vision statement, an informational model or just a bunch of good ideas. The dialogue during the sessions is very important. The journey is just as valuable as the result. By working together a shared view of the problem and the solution is built. I can help you by guiding you through the problem solving sessions.
The system dynamics discipline takes it a step further by attempting to make a computer model of the relevant part of the system. During the modelling sessions we build a flight simulator where different policies that can be tested and evaluated. It may sound strange that is can be useful to build computer models with “soft” variables. But even a limited model is of great value, since during the work hidden assumptions are made visible. A shared “live” graphical model says more than thousands words and can be of great help in to learn to think systemic in a situation.
So what do I offer? I offer you help in solving problems and finding new ways by applying systems thinking.