Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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Reblog: How Do You Get Leaders to #Change? – Chief Learning Officer, Solutions for Enterprise Productivity

Here’s a nice article on How Do You Get Leaders to Change? – Chief Learning Officer, Solutions for Enterprise Productivity.

I especially like the end of the paper about coaching and asking questions.

Indeed, when we’re told something, there are high chances that it comes to collide with some of our beliefs or mental model (because we make sense of what we’re told with our own past experience, and that often means we mis-interpret what others are saying).

On the other hand, when asked question, we are forced to bridge the gap between where we stand (our current mental model) and what the other is trying to say. A question isn’t as explicit as a statement when it comes to expressing a perspective. So when asked a question, although we feel that some perspective is at play behind the question, we’re let with space which we can feel however we want, thus bridging the gap between our own mental model and that of the questioner.

Whatever your conviction when it comes to how people resist to change, I think we all admit that it’s hard to resist to a question (though, sometimes we might end up affirming that a question is meaningless. Yet, this is an opportunity for dialogue and explaining why we think so. So even in this case, the exchange and gap-bridging occurs, from the askee or asker).

No wonder Socrates asked questions! 🙂


Motivating novices through positive feedback and experts through negative feedback (a #SolutionFocus paper mentioned by Coert Visser @DoingWhatworks)

I would like to comment on the paper mentioned above (thanks Coert!). This is interesting, and I find that there’s commonality behind what’s appear as opposites (positive & negative feedback).

Indeed, my first shot was that there is a difference between someone who feels Competent with respect to some learning and someone who doesn’t. I’m using here Competent as in Self-Determination Theory that basically says that intrinsic motivation comes out of promoting Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness (thanks to @Coert for bring it to my radar, BTW).

So, if you’re pointing problems to a beginner, you’re just undermining both their sense of competence and autonomy.

It then seems to me that it all depends on whether someone thinks he’s competent (or autonomous) with respect to some knowledge or skill, or not. So, before feeling competent, you’d need to grow their intrinsic motivation (by praising their hard acquired competence and autonomy), and when they think they’ve come to some kind of expertise, then bringing that kind of positive feedback is just acknowledging the obvious to them and thus not working anymore.

And then for experts (or people who think they are), pointing to problems (gaps between perfection and where they stand) make the unobvious obvious. And if these people are willing to close the gap, then they might want to work on that gap.

I told in the beginning that there was a common principle. Here it is IMHO: it’s about what Gregory Bateson called Information. If you don’t bring information to someone, he won’t act (of course). But if you do, he might react to it.

And what did Bateson called Information? He called Information “a difference that makes a difference”.

So, to someone who thinks he’s a beginner, you point the difference with the beginner: that he’s better than that. To an expert that knows already he’s not a beginner anymore, talking of where he is doesn’t bring information. You’re not stating a difference in his mental model. But if you’re pointing to an unseen difference between his perceived expertise level and some kind of objective/better expertise level, then that is information to him, and he might work on it.

Now the problem is: how can we know where someone think he is on that scale of expertise? Well maybe that Solution Focus scale might come to help here. But then we would need another discussion about how to move up the scale: root cause analyse the gap (no way!) or find times where the gap’s sometimes smaller, and what is done at these times, and do more of it (yes).

Also, furthering the Solution Focus approach to help that expert improve, it might help to ask him about what does he wants more of. Because one can think that although he might be considered an expert when it comes to generalities about some field, he might himself doesn’t agree with that and/or think that inside the field there are some areas where he feels like a beginner.

So in the end, the difference that can make a difference mostly comes out right to someone when the person is giving hints as to where it might be.

Only when someone’s expertise claim to be encompassing might we bring to the table other mental models or situation that the so-called expert might have problems to solve. Indeed, who said one mind has the requisite variety (Wikipedia) to handle two (or more)? No one, for sure as 1 never equaled 1+1.


#SystemsThinking As a Spiritual Practice #stwg #solutionfocus #appreciativeinquiry

I am not at all into this kind of mix between spirituality and, well, mundane things, but I must confess that this piece of blog from David Peter Stroh on Pegasus Com is well written and sounds right to the point!

Further, I see a connection with Solution Focus and Appreciative Inquiry as well. Can you feel it too?

Systems Thinking As a Spiritual Practice.

The Key to #Radical #Constructivism (#systemsthinking #stwg)

January 17th, 2013 Posted in Systems Thinking Tags: ,

I’ve just discovered this really cool web page titled “The Key to Radical Constructivism“. All you ever wanted to know about RC is linked from this page, as it seems.

Have a nice reading session!

Also, a more general page about RC is available here, which is the place where you can also read the marvelous but nonethless free magazine Constructivist Foundations (beware, some articles are hard to follow!)


CLE Newsletter – fall 2012: #systemsthinking (Christmas) Tree Game simulation for your kids!

So, you’re interested in Systems Thinking but don’t know how or where to start? ST is a wild beast, but I found that starting with Systems Dynamics is easier. Don’t assume that all there is in ST!

So, here we go, the latest issue of the Creative Learning Exchange newsletter where there’s all the necessary toolkit to teach Systems to your kids… or yourself!

CLE is an organization that publishes content to teach systems thinking to kids, mostly up to K-12 level.

It’s Christmas season, with the popular harvesting of Christmas Trees. A nice opportunity to play the game!

Have a look at the newsletter here (PDF). You can test the Tree game online using a simulator here.

Hmm, while I’m at it, The Lorax (IMDB, Wikipedia page here) has only been released recently in France, but CLE has published a ST studying course for it here: Studying The Lorax with Feedback Loops (PDF as well).

What is #Management #Cybernetics? 22 laws by Barry Clemson (#stwg #systemsthinking)

November 22nd, 2012 Posted in Systems Thinking Tags: , , , ,

Just saw this and thought I would reference it so it’s not lost… Barry, please get your book back on the shelves for a decent price! 🙂

1. System Holism Principle: A system has holistic properties possessed by none of its parts. Each of the system parts has properties not possessed by the system as a whole.

2. Darkness Principle: no system can be known completely.

3. Eighty-Twenty Principle: In any large, complex system, eighty percent of the output will be produced by only twenty percent of the system.

4. Complementarity Law: Any two different perspectives (or models) about a system will reveal truths about that system that are neither entirely independent nor entirely compatible.

5. Hierarchy Principle: Complex natural phenomena are organized in hierarchies with each level made up of several integral systems.

6. Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem: All consistent axiomatic foundations of number theory include undecidable propositions.

7. Entropy – the Second Law of Thermodynamics: In any closed system the differences in energy can only stay the same or decrease over time; or, in any closed system the amount of order (or organization) can never increase and must eventually decrease.

8. Redundancy of Information Theorem: Errors in information transmission can be protected against (to any level of confidence required) by increasing the redundancy in the messages.

9. Redundancy of Resources Principle: Maintenance of stability under conditions of disturbance requires redundancy of critical resources.

10. Redundancy of Potential Command Principle: In any complex decision network, the potential to act effectively is conferred by an adequate concatenation of information.

11. Relaxation time Principle: System stability is possible only if the system’s relaxation time is shorter than the mean time between disturbances.

12. Circular Causality Principle One: Given positive feedback (i.e., a two-part system in which each stimulates any initial change in the other), radically different end states are possible from the same initial conditions.

13. Circular Causality Principle Two: Given negative feedback (i.e., a two-part system in which each part tends to offset any change in the other), the equiibrial state is invariant over a wide range of initial conditions.

14. Feedback dominance theorem: For high gain amplifiers, the feedback dominates the output over wide variations in input.

15. Homeostasis Principle: A system survives only so long as all essential variables are maintained within their physiological limits.

16. Steady State Principle: If a system is in a state of equilibrium (a steady state), then all sub-systems must be in equilibrium. If all sub-systems are in a state of equilibrium, then the system must be in equilibrium.

17. Requisite Variety Law: The control achievable by a given regulatory sub-system over a given system is limited by 1) the variety of the regulator, and 2) the channel capacity between the regulator and the system.

18. Conant-Ashby theorem: Every good regulator of a system must be a model of that system.

19. Self-Organizing Systems Principle: Complex systems organize themselves; the characteristic structural and behavioral patterns in a complex system are primarily a result of the interactions among the system parts.

20. Basins of Stability Principle: Complex systems have basins of stability separated by thresholds of instability. A system “parked” on a ridge will “roll downhill”.

21. Viability Principle: Viability is a function of the balance maintained along two dimensions: 1) autonomy of sub-systems versus integration of the system as a whole, and 2) stability versus adaptation.

22. Recursive System Theorem: If a viable system contains a viable system, then the organizational structure must be recursive; or, in a recursive organizational structure, any viable system contains, and is contained in, a viable system.

via What is Management Cybernetics? | Barry Clemson.

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!


Reblog: Seth Godin’s Blog: The Acute Heptagram of Impact – a #systemsthinking view (#stwg)

Seth Godin recently published an interesting article about how one’s can achieve high impact: Seths Blog: The Acute Heptagram of Impact (click to open in a new windows to follow my thinking below).

Upon rapid staring on that 7 headed star, it occurred to me that it might provide more insights than initially advocated in Seth’s article. Let me show you my own wandering around this star… using some naive systems thinking on it.

Following edges

The first wandering follows the edges. Let’s see:

Strategy is what allows good tactics, which fuels one’s desire for more. This allows to overcome fear which surely enough is good foundation for reputation. The latter is the one that once fed back to you maintains your persistence which allows for steady execution of your initial strategy.

Ok, this one was easy. Let’s try another.

Round the clock

This time I’m reading the vertices in order:

A good strategy will fuels your persistence which is what will allow you to overcome fear, clearing the way for sound tactics which you will be able to bring to bright execution, surely enough building up your reputation, which will fed back to yourself and further reinforce your desire to continue on your strategy.

Not bad, eh? What about embracing opposites? Let’s go…

Head and two opposites

Here I’m looking at the two opposite vertices from each point, clock wise:

  • Strategy is tactics with a good execution.
  • Persistence is fueled from steady execution coated in your own reputation.
  • Fear are easily overcome by your desire for more along with your own reputation fed back to you, since it usually believe more in you than yourself.
  • Tactics grow out of your desire to pursue some strategy.
  • Execution only is possible by giving persistence to one’s own strategy.
  • Reputation surely is grown out of your persistence and your overcome of fear.
  • Lastly, desire is fueled by your successful tactics and your repeated successes over fear.


What about considering each vertex with its two neighbours? Here we go:

  • Strategy is sustained by your persistence in your desire.
  • Persistence grows out of a strategy to overcome fear.
  • Fear is defeated by persistent application of well sounded tactics.
  • Tactics succeed by diligent execution of plans to overcome fear.
  • Execution is possible through sound tactics fueled daily by your own reputation fed back from others.
  • Reputation grows of steady execution of plans to make your desire a reality.
  • Desire for more grows out of your reputation for achieving successful strategy.

Where unrelated concepts show danger

Now my last part. Each vertex faces a barring line, whose perpendicular leads to itself. For instance, the Reputation-Fear line has a perpendicular that passes through Strategy. Let’s see how this works out:

  • Strategy can be defeated by lack of reputation and too much fear.
  • Persistence is void when desire is absent of tactics fail.
  • Fear grows out of a lack of strategy and derailing execution.
  • Tactics are hindered by bad reputation or lack of persistence.
  • Execution isn’t just possible without desire and is paralyzed by fear.
  • There is no Reputation without perfect strategy and tactics.
  • Desire can’t exist without persistence and successful execution.

As a final note, I need to say that I see all these relationships taking place at the same time, and the resulting emerging consequence is that of IMPACT, as set out by Seth Godin.

Very good job, @SethGodin!!!

(The clever reader might want to have a look at Constructivism and Hermeneutics on Wikipedia 😉 I might have just invented blog hermeneutics, here…

Reblog: The art of #SystemsThinking in driving sustainable transformation | @GuardianNews @JoConfino #stwg

This morning, I had the pleasure to read a really excellent article about what Systems Thinking can bring to organizations (and the world) and what enabling people to move toward the positive can further do to enhance that (much like what Appreciative Inquiry, Solution Focus or other strength-based change approaches can do, for instance).

Well done, @JoConfino!

via The art of systems thinking in driving sustainable transformation | Guardian Sustainable Business | Guardian Professional.

Reblog: Linda Booth Sweeney – Balaton Diary: A Letter to My Children #stwg #systemsthinking

Linda Booth Sweeney writes to her children about the meaning of sustainability, life, love and why she must be far from her children for a week.

Very good!

Linda Booth Sweeney » Blog Archive » Balaton Diary: A Letter to My Children.



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