Seeing More of the Whole

A chance to participate in an event co-hosted by the wonderful Steven Byers was one I could not resist. Bonus was that it was on a topic I’ve wanted to explore more deeply: systems thinking.

So on a dark and rainy Monday night I travelled down to Renton, Washington to spend a day exploring Systems Thinking 101 with these great folks, which shifted into café and Open Space conversations as part of a Pegasus Communications Regional Event that would last until end of day Wednesday. Here’s the first part of my harvest – my loves, ah-has and notes from the 101 Workshop:

  • We have 10 minutes for 20 people to introduce themselves. Nice shared time management.
  • Connection of Heifetz’ adaptive leadership to systems thinking. So similar to the Cynefin framework, which I think I prefer. But I’d like to read more on Heifetz and also to better learn Cynefin/how to distinguish between the different domains.
  • Waters Foundation Habits of Systems Thinker cards sorted by: 1. This is a habit for me, 2. Understand it but not yet a habit, and 3. Don’t do it or understand it. Used analogy of habit: crossing arms one way, then the other. Lovely tactile reflection activity and I’ll use the cards frequently for their fantastic questions.
  • Recommendation to read Language of Systems thinking by Michael Goodman.
  • On questions: open, closed and dirty (those that lead, imply, trap or infer guilt). Work in triads: storyteller, inquirer, observer. Lovely language on circle practice from my triad partner: keeper.
  • System analysis in six steps:

  1. Tell the story
  2. Name the variables
  3. Determine the system boundaries
  4. Sketch the trends (behaviour over time graphs)
  5. Make the system visible (connection circles, causal loop diagrams, stock/flow diagrams)
  6. Share and look for leverage

  • Behaviour over time graphs: sometimes this is what it takes to get people on the same page.
  • Connection circles: does the rise or fall of one variable affect the rise or fall of another? E.g. as the ________ rises/falls, the __________ rises/falls. Find the loops.
  • Iceberg model: lower the water line to see more. Love these words – will use this in a coaching workshop I host.
  • The bodywork: bombs and shields with various changes (same person as anchor, move one person then another, readjusting as necessary). Debriefed all rounds – connections to systems thinking. Living loops (passing feedback through a system) and group juggling (how many balls can we keep up in the air? Metaphor: watch your thrower, change the structure).
  • Loved the one central simple handout we referred to throughout the day.

And the best part of the workshop: leaving with the thought “How can I better integrate systems thinking  into my practice?” Thank you to Steve, Nalani and Colleen for a great day.

Where can you see more of the whole? How can you cultivate the habits of a systems thinker?