It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.
It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Being a novice, just taking my first official course, I didn't have any personal examples involving a concrete outcome to systems thinking. Appeals by others to the course instructor for some concrete examples of applied systems thinking also came up short. He said that it was the difficulty of working through ten years of private consulting in implementing systems thinking solutions that became the motivation for creating the Enabling a Better Tomorrow approach.
A further appeal on the same topic by the same instructor to the Systems Thinking World community on LinkedIn revealed a prevalent hurdle to expanding the mainstream application of systems thinking. Too often the problem can come from established systems thinkers getting into discussions on "metallurgy in watch building" or the reality of the fourth dimension when asked what time something should happen. To be truthful, this is most apparent on discussion forums. Still, the original question on what fellow system thinkers had done with systems thinking was quickly diverted to other obtuse topics.
The challenge of coming up with examples then proved harder than expected. It also leads to a question often put forward on systems thinking forums. Why hasn't systems thinking made more and deeper inroads into mainstream policy making and management? From a new community paradigms perspective, this may be akin to the idea that war should not be left up to the generals. Even without this tendency, systems thinking is not an intuitive process to implement, especially among a group or groups required to work together under top down command and control management systems. Perhaps we should examine some possible assumptions behind the question more closely.
First, we need to clarify the meaning of the word concrete in context. The word 'concrete' could apply to the application of Systems Thinking as a process to a specific situation or it could apply instead to a concrete outcome or successful solution as a result of systems thinking that could in turn be used in other situations. This blog used the word in the first sense in a previous post, in contrast to approaches where ideas are dictated from above or perhaps generated en masse but simply piled on with the expectation that the best will rise to the top.
A systems thinking approach can be antithetical to the top down command approach seen in so many institutions. There are a number of aspects to the systems thinking peg which make it a troublesome match to the square hole of complicated command and control management.
One mismatch is that systems thinking models, as said in two different previous articles, are always wrong and moreover, they are never the actual solutions that are implemented in realistic situations. They serve as conceptual maps to test out ideas before one makes a commitment which cannot be easily reversed. The actual implementation of a solution though is a different matter. Systems thinking could help devise a solution to an automotive engineering problem but it will be the knowledge and skills of automotive engineering that will implement the actual solution. Systems thinking alone then is never enough to come up with a concrete solution that is actually implemented but without it one could be wandering in the wilderness following false prophets.
Real world situations take place in the context of a particular environment and in the broader collective context of each participants motivation for taking part in the situation as it applies to their particular area of interest. This makes understanding stakeholders in a system not only very important in systems thinking but also challenging as they do not always move in the same direction, nor do they have the same goals, nor are either always fully known. From a new community paradigms perspective, it is not only essential to understand them, it is also important to engage and even empower them.
Systems thinking, therefore while a concrete process or means, does not necessarily result in a concrete end or solution that could be exactly applied to other situations. It is a matter of doing and once done should be started anew and tested again in different circumstances.
This is because systems thinking is a process focusing more on means than ends and that its application will be different in each unique situation. Systems thinking is neither the map nor the territory. It is a process for exploring or mapping out unexplored territory. The adage that the map is not the territory has its applications and needs to be appreciated. However, to get through unknown territory from point A to point B, you sometimes need a map and you want that map that reflects the best information possible and does not merely speak of “Monsters be here”. Better yet, you need to know how to build your own map and not depend upon those who supposedly came before. Better yet still, is getting others to build their own maps of what they know of their own territory.
So as to determine how to incorporate all of this lets take a few steps back and remind ourselves of the difference between analysis and synthesis and of the basic systemic relationships we have developed between those stocks of stuff with which we are concerned, the fundamental and inherent means by which they can be changed and, the arising conflicts between stakeholders as to the outcomes of those changes. All of which can be played out in a myriad of different situations and which in turn can be illustrated or modeled in different manners though with but three basic underlying structures.
While there are myriad of different situations there are also, because of the different possible combinations of the three basic structures, a number of systems archetypes that consistently arise providing another useful and, I‘ll say it, concrete resource. These are covered in the next segment, Systems Archetypes . There are far too many to cover here so I created a rich picture model to cover the primary systems archetypes for further development in the future.
The systems archetypes are a set of standard diagnoses for systems. Donella Meadows proposed twelve points of leverage, which can be seen as a set of prescriptions and which were included in the last two models created for Enabling a Better Tomorrow through new community paradigms. They are, however, holistic health based prescriptions requiring greater patient organization participation to implement the more comprehensive and permeating health regiments. Standard management systems look for the right pill to take, systems thinking calls for life style changes. Here is a rich picture model that summarizes the twelve step process but the original article and related sites available on the newly created wiki-page are better than anything I could summarize on these pages. Each of the archetypes then could be applicable to a variety of situations that may arise and each could be addressed through one or more of Meadow's twelve leverage points depending upon specific circumstances.
The Systems Archetype segment also provided a real world example of a concrete systems thinking process being implemented, Improving Acme Product Quality (a real laboratory company, not the coyote and roadrunner one) by Rebecca Niles of Leverage Networks. Any actual concrete outcomes though still remains the responsibility of the effectuating organization. There are also examples out there of others using systems thinking. I surprised myself finding more examples of systems thinking in the California public sector than I expected. The California Department of Health Care Services is using ‘Leadership Skills for Leading Microsystems’ by Thomas P. Huber. The California Department of Public Health is applying systems thinking through Mobilizing Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP). The California Department of Education looks to transportation with a systems thinking lens, no local examples yet found though.
In my view most of the multitude of proposed solutions to our current community challenges are destined by their own inherent limitations to fall short on their own, including systems thinking, with each needing to be shored up with other approaches. Systems thinking offers a particularly useful means, I believe, of organizing those different approaches into a cohesive whole which can be made more analogous to a gothic cathedral than a pile of stones. As a result of the foregoing, I am not going to be trying for any particular end goal, instead I am endeavoring to create a platform on which to continue incorporating systems thinking into new community paradigms.
Friday, July 4, 2014
However, the culmination of learning attained so far and new knowledge gleaned during the creation of new models not only raised some new questions but also induced me to revise some of the past blog posts in this series, to create some new models to understand systems thinking better and to revamp the Systems Thinking Approaches wiki-page including organizing it with a table of contents and giving STW/STiA Systems Thinking Certification its own wiki-page.
In the last blog post, Enabling a Better Tomorrow through New Community Paradigms, the Network Magic model is never mentioned but was the basis for the Strategy for Enabling a Better Tomorrow model and helped lead to the New Community Paradigms Entrenched City Halls model.
The AR Period Reduction Model segment is based on a series of different but commonly themed models, as was the Network Magic segment. The models have been cloned and adapted for this effort. An overall AR Period Reduction Campaign model has also been created combining all of the relevant models together.
For the AR Period Reduction case an issue of time is more closely associated with the particular situation under study. The apparent goal of the company under study, Big Box Distribution, is to decrease what it sees as an overly lengthy average accounts receivable period (AR cycle). Management, taking a stereotypical command and control management approach, look at the Accounts Receivable department as an isolated function, threatened to fire everyone for not meeting imposed goals and followed through when the desired change did not occur prior to calling in the systems thinking consultant. AR Period Reduction/Situation
The removal of the accounts receivable team that was directly dealing with the problem makes addressing the issue through systems thinking more difficult because the new team has no experience. The new team will be understandably nervous with strangers sent by management. The old team though would have presented its own issues
A systems thinking approach looks at the system as a whole, so no specific perspective will be exclusively taken including the AR department or management. The behavioral trends of all the stakeholders that have evolved over time need to be studied more closely. AR Period Reduction/Behavior.
A systems thinking approach then goes beyond the singular view of the isolated AR cycle, initially adopted by the top down command and control approach, and investigates the behavior of several variables within the larger system over time. This will undoubtedly raise more questions than answers at first because it examines unquestioned assumptions but it also allows us to investigate what else might be influencing the trending of these variables. AR Period Reduction/Model
The model created then through systems thinking is intended to profile the relevant stakeholders within the larger system of not only the company as a whole but their market and customers as well, including the responsibilities and apparent motivations of all. AR Period Reduction/Stakeholders
At this point the derived Model and its associated Boundary provides a map of the Situation, Stakeholder and Behavior aspects of the real world situation (the territory) for further exploration. AR Period Reduction/Boundaries
These assumptions, both initial and those which arose during the exploratory process, should continue to be questioned and tested to ensure we are on a solid foundation before proceeding to the Leverage and Strategy aspects of the systems thinking process. AR Period Reduction/Assumptions
Hopefully, the systems thinking exploration begins to reveal appropriate pathways to investigate for possible leverage points within the current situation. Such an attempt requires a deeper understanding of the most appropriate components for the strategy. It is this model within the AR Period Reduction Campaign series that brings in the Donella Meadows Institute (NCP wiki-page) Leverage Points featured in the New Community Paradigms Entrenched City Halls model and illustrated more fully here . AR Period Reduction/Leverage
A systems thinking approach can take a significantly different path than one dictated by a command and control management approach. The systems thinking approach can call upon the stakeholders of the system in question to take the investigation resulting from preceding exploration points of leverage and craft a strategy which will address the current situation in a manner that is beneficial to the whole system by changing stakeholder and organizational behaviors and avoiding unintended consequences to the extent possible. It is this comprehensive, deep understanding approach that is fundamental to systems thinking, Never improve a part of the system unless it also improves the whole. - Ackoff. AR Period Reduction/Strategy
The AR Period Reduction Campaign model(s) provide a somewhat more realistic application of the Strategy for Enabling a Better Tomorrow and the New Community Paradigms Entrenched City Halls models and of the earlier and more fundamental Systemic Perspective or Strategy (IM-1366) model. However, although somewhat revised, the AR Period Reduction model remains basically the same without any particularly significant advancement in understanding (more a matter of solidifying) and the AR Reduction Period case itself is again not real, begging the question are there any real, 'concrete' examples of systems thinking?
These models though also help though to illustrate differences between traditional top down command and control versus more collaborative system thinking approaches in organizational management. These differences can be used to demonstrate both the limits of a more traditional top down command and control approach, and of a systems thinking approach as well.
These differences within the processes of the world and between our different means of dealing with that world can be made more acute and make implementation more difficult depending upon how they interact. We may speak of two separate general approaches or systems of management to address a world seen either as being complicated or as being complex (having established earlier that there is a difference) but the real world consists of both simultaneously and not always in a readily apparent manner. Raising the question, what makes the difference and can we integrate that knowledge and understanding into new community paradigms?
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