Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
Home » Posts tagged 'method'

#DSRP from @CabreraResearch: a way to order and procedurize it?

January 28th, 2015 Posted in Systems Thinking Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been a big fan of Dr Derek Cabrera “DSRP” generic systems thinking tool set and approach. Along with Dr Laura Colosi, they developed the concept into a full range of approaches to teach children how to think better: Cabrera Research.

As fan as I may be of theories, I also like a good putting in practice of them, and DSRP comes in just as a handy way of “doing” Systems Thinking, or, as one might put it, “Systems Doing”.

But first, a bit of a reminder of what DSRP is and what it does stand for.

What “DSRP” is

DSRP first appeared, I think, in Dr Derek Cabrera PhD thesis near the end where he studied the different flavors of Systems Thinking (eg. this one) and came to the conclusion that there are now two similar methods or even definitions of what Systems Thinking or how to “do” it in practice. And so he proposed these four letters and the corresponding generic questions (page 170 of the thesis: “The Minimal Concept Theory of Systems Thinking (MCT/ST)”):

  • D stands for “Distinctions”: what something IS and IS NOT, given the fact that once you decide one, you de facto decide the other as well. Incidentally, this looks like what George Spencer-Brown also does with his initial distinction being perfect continence (in “Laws of Form“) – I’ll come to this below
  • S stands for “Systems”: what it is COMPOSED OF, and what it is A PART OF
  • R stands for “Relations”: what it IS CONNECTED TO, and what IT CONNECTS TO (seeing the thing as a relation)
  • and lastly P stands for “Perspectives”: what does the things BRINGS as a perspective, and what OTHER perspective can be considered to look at the thing.

What I propose is that we make some little change to the order of the four letters because I feel like there’s a progression in them and that some other view might be more natural, if not powerfully generative.

Moving from DSRP to DRSP

I just propose we switch the S and R to make that DRSP. Although the four letter indeed, in my mind, form a system to build system in one’s own mind, I find it works better the following way. Beside, I’m not sure Dr Cabrera had a specific order in mind when he proposed it. Here how it goes for me:

  • First, there’s a general Distinction, which makes it clear what is the thing, and what “other” is with respect to that thing. From a 1st order systems thinking, we can stick to that simple explanation, but from a 2nd order perspective (the one that takes the observing observer into consideration) we must remember that a specific perspective is at play behind that initial distinction, something George Spencer-Brown himself seemed to introduce in his later updating of Laws of Form, in some annexes with the re-entrant principles.
  • Then, once that initial Distinction has been made, there’s a necessary Relationship established between One and Other, because of the distinction (the mark) between them.
  • And here we just pause now (that is, without pursuing our Distinctions of the initial element or of the relationship itself), then we can say we have a System, made of the One and the Other, connected through their Relationship.

Now, we continue our investigation, and surely enough, some other Distinctions will be made, along with the drawing of Relationships between the new ones and the preceding ones, whether they are at the same level or at a lower (distinction of an element into smaller entities, giving visibility to a smaller sub-system) and bigger ones (identification of a super-system). Lastly, once the initial investigation is finished, we have:

  • an overall Perspective represented by the whole DRSP analysis we have. It’s now then time, of course, to question all elements of it (DR&S) and see if each one might not bring new insights to further refine the picture, and also ask other people what their own individual perspective might want to have added to the picture. Hint: inviting stakeholders of the issue or system modelled is always a good idea…

So here we are now with a beginning of a method to “apply and use DRSP”. Ask questions about each one of the four letters to build and refine a system of interest. When the work is finished, it’s still possible to consider the whole as an element in itself and ask: if this element is a Distinction, what is Other? What relation stands between this One and Other? And of course, there will be a final time when it will be worth considering the question: whatever Other there is, we decide we stop there and will work out a solution or whatever needs to happen for the modelled system from only the component we brought forth through our DRSP questioning.

So, of course, there are a huge number of systems thinking methods, all of them featuring advantages, some even trying to unify the field (like in Michael C. Jackson’s Creative Holism for Managers: Total Systems Intervention) but not all are (IMHO) as easy to use as Dr Cabrera’s. So when you need to answer that spontaneous question “But how do you do systems thinking?”, now you have a simple 4 letters, easy to memorize, approach.


#TWI Job Instruction is technical #strength-based teaching – #Lean

It stroke me the other day that the Training With Industry Job Instruction material is just strength-based appreciating, gathering and teaching for the shop floor.

Strengths are what make people tick: what they know and know how to do, and succeed at.

Job Instruction is what TWI developed as a teaching method in order to gather shop floors best practices and teach them to new hires in a most efficiency way.

There are two phases in JIT:

  1. Prepare the material, where the trainer go on the shop floor (or Gemba) and interviews the employees on what are the best ways to achieve some work, and how to best do it (safety, tricks, etc.)
  2. Deliver the material, where the trainer is encouraged to cut the work into suitable pieces so that the teaching can be done in 20-30 minutes at most.

The way JIT is built also is based on the best strengths of how people learn: small theoretical chunks followed by thorough practice and correction, before any bad habit have a chance of forming.

Also, JIT insists on the fact that the Job Breakdown Sheets are material for the trainer only, and not for the trainees. What to put inside relies on the strengths of the trainer, it’s not generic training material for all kind of trainees.

In the end, I find JIT to be a method to gather “technical” strengths of workers and transmit them around the shop floor for all to benefit.

Just ages before the strengths movement crystalized.

How I moved beyond #SystemsThinking methods…

This, I posted on the Systems Thinking World LinkedIn group:

I feel like I moved beyond ST methods (the one I cited in a previous blogpost). I was swallowed by Complexity and Ashby‘s law of requisite variety was the crack through which I came on the other side of the mirror.

What this means is: I recognize the complexity of the world and our (recent) capacity to acknowledge it. I recognize my own limitation to understand that complexity in a decent (short time) way: I simply acknowledged that I don’t have the requisite variety.

I also do recognize that people are structurally coupled to their own conditions and their own understanding of them, far better than I will ever be capable of.

So, my own ST way of approaching life is now to help people weave their own mental models with that of others (when they’re supposed to interact successfully) so they can co-build (ie, influence each other) a new one that work for both of them.

In any situation, the best strengths to use and the one of the people inside that very situation. So I help people weave themselves and make their co-intelligence emerge and address the situation.

The generic term for that is “strength-based approaches to change”, but, to me, it goes way beyond just identifying people skills and traits and using them…

Finding the perfect #systemsthinking method: is that what you really want?

There’s this discussion on LinkedIn about finding a Systems Thinking “Theory of Everything”.

I don’t know why, but it triggered something in myself that I would like to share here as well.

Let me again come back to constructivism: all these approaches and methods reflect the mental models of their conceptors. As such, they’re perfectly adapted to whoever created them along with the context in which they were primarily intended for.

Biomatrix seems the more systeMAtic of all those I’ve encountered, with this respect.

Now, I question the practicality of such highly sophisticated approaches. How do you teach them to people?

I don’t question their usefulness in bringing further understanding of a situation and consequently improving if with less unintended consequences than if no approach would have been used instead. But the more sophisticated an approach is, the more difficult it will me, IMO to “sell” it to some organization, either externally from a consultancy perspective or internally.

All these approaches try to do is help creating a model of a problem or situation in order to improve it. From basic principles (causal loops diagrams, DSRP…) to more sophisticated ones (Biomatrix, SoSM (System of Systems Methodology), etc.) they try to be as close as possible to reality, yet without fully embracing it (for it would be reality itself, not a map of it!) So, here again, we’re in constructivism: that of the creators of the aforementioned methods, and that of the people making up a system we would like to study/improve using one of those methods.

I have two personal convictions.

  1. The first one is that a system is its best map and that the (future) solution to its problems is already embedded i it, even if invisible for now.
  2. The second one is that you have to make a tradeoff somewhere between having a very good (ie matching the variety of the system) method to help a system see what solution would work for it, and a simple enough method that can be taught and explain to people making up the system. Too simple, it might not bring any insight, too complicated, it will be dismissed before even using it.

I personally turned to strength-based approaches to change such as Appreciative Inquiry (part of the “whole-system” change methods) or Solution Focus where the system itself is helped deliver what would work for itself.

If really needed, I can revert to some very simple models (that I use as a checklist) to help ensure some basic elements of an organization have been considered. For instance, McKinsey’s 7S might be helpful sometimes (and I don’t go further than what Wikipedia).

The fact is that a system is what it is, composed of most importantly (to me) its autonomous (sub)parts: humans. And humans construct their own reality, so instead of trying to box them into some different reality, I think we need to help them see their own boxes and help them connect them all so that they do something that matters and makes sense to themselves.

Don’t try to understand in too much details what they mean of what they want. Trust them to know better than you’d ever could. Lead them in the trouble waters of where they are to the clarity of where they would like to be. Let them identify the impediments on the way. Let them identify their strengths. Let them identify their own solutions (most of them they have *already* experimented to some extent – solution focus!). Then let them decide what path would work best for them and help them maintain the direction they chose. And then help them identify when they arrived at their destination so they can congratulate themselves.

And don’t even get me into change resistance, because that’s what a sophisticated method will probably trigger anyway!


Mail List

Join the mailing list

Check your email and confirm the subscription