Systems Thinking

My friend @dymaxion asked “how do you teach someone to be a systems thinker” on Twitter this morning.

So first, what is a systems thinker? I am one because I believe that all systems are the same, they just use different language. You can also always just read the wikipedia article.

Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization healthy or unhealthy.

So usually it has to do with looking at a whole system, but I see it as what is true across systems. I see this in terms of movement and stories.

Some simple ways to see this, which also break down common boundaries between disciplines:

  • creation stories are all very similar, despite having vasty geographical distance
  • watch ants move. now stand on a skyscraper and see how people move
  • think about how people interact while working on an electrical system

Pay attention to how you react to things. It’s like massage.. you’re not paying attention to how your fingers/knuckles/hands feel, but how the creature you’re massaging feels to your fingers/knuckles/hands. How do you walk when you’re happy? When you’re sad? When you’re in a bad part of the city? When you’re lost? Now, how do the people around you respond to you based on how you walk? What is the difference in how wildlife responds to you (bird calls, what creatures do you see, etc) when you’re not in a city? How do things around you move based on how you’re moving?
Now think about stories and how people speak. What sorts of stories and archetypes appear again and again? Now, how do people break those (this is the interesting part). What histories occur again and again? Now, what happens before those stories start to be told?

why it’s worthwhile to think this way: All learning tacks onto existing nets of knowledge. “I know this because it reminds me of this” sort of thing – it’s why mnemonic devices work so well, why we mutter to ourselves when learning new things. By connecting everything to everything else, you have a much more solid structure in which to learn. It also means you’re much more immersed and engaged.
how to start: pay attention, clearly. Now what else is it like? What is it made of? What else is made of that? What else moves like that?

Also, watch this:
doodling in math class

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