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Home » Appreciative Inquiry » Donella Meadows: #vision is a necessity before any other #systemsthinking method (sort of #AppreciativeInquiry)

Donella Meadows: #vision is a necessity before any other #systemsthinking method (sort of #AppreciativeInquiry)

I think you will spend 188 seconds reading this post

Reading through the Systems Thinking World LinkedIn Group, Gene Bellinger (SystemsWiki owner and group owner) posted the link below to a video of Donella Meadows talking about Vision.

Meadows is a renowned systems thinker whose main work is the “Limits to Growth” book about how our continuing use of non renewable resources will bring a brutal stop to our growth.

In the video posted (, Meadows talks about the very importance of always having a vision in mind before trying to do something and how this helped her discover things that she thought she wouldn’t have otherwise.

Using Appreciative Inquiry vocabulary, it stroke me that having Vision (or Dream) before trying to Discover parts of it already happening was sort of doing it backwards (in the 4D process, we have Discovery first, before Dream).

But then, upon further thinking about it, it seems to me that Meadows purpose (“doing systems thinking”) was different than what appreciative inquiry people try to do. Indeed, when “doing AI”, one wants to first regive trust to people that may be discouraged by the situation as it is. So, the first part of AI in its 4D process (Discover) is to help people see what strengths and positive actions are already existing in their current reality. This gives them courage and a force to overcome their previous apathetic behaviors and move on to the Dream phase, for a better reality.

Meadows states that visioning before trying to investigate the current existing system is a way not to be constrained by current broken reality. That because current reality is often being seen as problematic, one easily gets his mind tainted by the non-working parts of the system under consideration, which according to Meadows, prevents the Systems modeller from doing a better modelization work. By envisioning a best future, one prepares his own mind to view already occurring bits and parts of that better future, which allows the modeller to take these into the modelling of the system and build a probably better view of the situation (at least more thorough). And a more thorough model should have better chances of seeing powerful leverage points to help the system move itself into that better envisioned future (or help it discover the best future that fits it).

I see Meadows approach as being highly appreciative, although it starts “backwards” from what classical AI does. Yet, the context is different (one would say the environment if talking using Systems Thinking terms):

  • when the intervenor is trying to act from “outside” of the system and the system seems not to be able to change itself, an Appreciative Inquiry facilitator can unlock the creativity and dreams by first inquirying into the system’s strengthes
  • when the intervenor is more part of the system, envisioning first what his/her dreams may be about, it allows him/her to later discover strengths s/he may have missed otherwise. Being part of the system, his mind is probably tainted by the problematic situation s/he’s wishing to change: it’s hence less efficient to analyze the system with this kind of mind: better change his mind using vision building before analyzing the system, so as to inquire into what’s not working AND the strengths that relate to the vision.

Meadows, in the video, also facilitates a 2 minutes envisioning experience of a better world. People often build a vision as they write an objective. This is not enough. vision ought to be a real description in full technicolor of what their dream would look like if it were to occur perfectly. Meadows, in the video, coaches the public into trying this.

About 30 minutes of your time, but very worth looking at!

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