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Essential Tools | Systemic Thinking

Systemic Thinking

A fairly pervasive approach to change defines a goal, then sets out in as straight a tactical line as possible to get there. Such an approach tries to ignore or run-over any intervening or obstructing variables like the fact that several people don't want the goal to be reached or don't appreciate the tactics being used. A systems orientation to change management looks at human systems holistically. It understands that any change within a system will reverberate throughout the entire system and impact even seemingly unrelated parts of the system.

Using a systems orientation we…

  • Understand that systems are comprised of constellations of forces that must be aligned for efficient and successful change projects.
  • Widen our perspective from our immediate goal to one that considers the entire system.
  • Orchestrate several coordinated change actions simultaneously.
  • Develop feedback loops sufficient to staying in touch with the impacts of our change strategies and their specific actions.

Here are some things to think about to help you think systemically:

  1. Universal Connectedness: everything is connected to everything else-things, processes, thoughts, feelings, and actions. There is nothing happening that isn't connected to everything else.
  2. Mutual Responsibility: for things to be the way they are everything must be the way it is; therefore, responsibility is always mutual. Those who see themselves as "doing nothing" are contributing to the way things are by "doing nothing" just as much as what everybody else is doing.
  3. Sufficient Sound and Current Data: needed to determine the boundaries of the system that contains both the problem and the solution. Look to a larger system definition when problems seem intractable.
  4. Leverage Points: that accessible point in the system that will create the greatest impact toward the desired change with the least effort or pain. The most important leverage point is the person whose system it is. Build a high equity relationship with that person to contribute to their success. If the system is yours build a support system you can count on to help you create success.
  5. A Powerful Reframe: a systemic perspective takes away the too popular notion of single-point fault and blame allowing an easier transition to the infinite perspective. For example, pain reframed from a systemic perspective is a signal for healing rather a trigger for anger and fear.
  6. A Function of Consciousness: We are too often consciousness of only a very limited part of ourselves and a very limited part of all that is going on around us. An effective systemic-orientation calls for being present to a much larger portion of ourselves and what is going on around us. Only then will we begin to perceive systemic connectedness.