I have always felt that the action most worth watching is not at the center of things but where the edges meet. I like shorelines, weather fronts, international borders. There are interesting frictions and incongruities in these places, and often, if you stand at the point of tangency, you can see both sides, better than if you were in the middle of either one.
Anne Fadiman (1997)
I always loved this quote because it evokes the idea of being aware of something not yet seen, not yet clearly delineated, yet taking a form that needs to be acknowledged. I believe that we are in a moment of time, where a great transformation is taking place. As we witness the disintegration of many traditional ways of thinking and doing; as it appears that we are living in a time of chaos, fear, and frustration; we are also bearing witness to what is emerging. To be a Regenerative Practitioner, I believe systems thinking is foundational to this practice.
A systems thinker sees things holistically, sees interconnectedness, and sees the potential of impactful change. It is also important to note, that the term “systems thinking” can mean many different things to each person. However, systems thinking goes beyond being a toolkit in problem solving. Systems thinking is also “a sensitivity to the circular nature of the world we live in; an awareness of the role of structure in creating the conditions we face; a recognition that there are powerful laws of systems operating that we are unaware of; a realization that there are consequences to our actions that we are oblivious to” (Michael Goodman, n.d.). Goodman also goes on to state that “Systems thinking often involves moving from observing events or data, to identifying patterns of behavior overtime, to surfacing the underlying structures that drive those events and patterns”.
Another way of looking at systems thinking is illustrated below as delineated by Leyla Acaroglu (2021):
Acaroglu depicts systems thinking through this illustration in six different changes:
Moving from disconnection to interconnectedness.
Thinking in a linear fashion to changing to a circular way of understanding.
From operating in silos to shifting to emergence, recognizing that larger entities are created from smaller parts.
Understanding and practicing that the whole is the sum of its parts.
Shifting from analyzing data separately to synthesizing/integrating and seeing patterns.
Refocusing from isolation to recognizing relationships.
I believe that Systems Thinking is a powerful way of seeing and being because as Otto Sharmer (2021) contends: “The moment you change the awareness of people in a system, then the rules that govern their behavior can begin to change too”.
If you’re interested in becoming a Systems Thinker or want to enhance your ability, Linda Booth Sweeney (2001) provides, “Guidelines for Daily Systems Thinking Practice”:
Ask Different Questions - start by paying attention to the questions you ask. Engage in the process of inquiry that probe the underlying structural relationships or patterns of behavior.
Learn to Experience Time Differently - We are often under the pressure of time, seeking quick solutions. Sweeney recommends that you make the time horizon explicit. Extend your sense of what constitutes the "present". Try thinking in longer blocks of time. Slow down so that you can align more effectively with the systems you are trying to identify and understand.
Notice the Systems Around You - Look at feedback loops in everyday situations. What is happening in your workplace that are repeating patterns that potentially cause disruption? Look at organizational processes and see the interconnectedness or disconnects, as well as potential pitfalls;
Draw a Loop-a-Day (or for one week) - Every morning, look at or listen to the news. Jot down stories you can explore through causal loop diagrams. Sweeney cites as an example: "The unemployment rate rose over the past 10 years, as did the number of families seeking welfare assistance". Again, looking for relationships, connections.
Collaborative Learning - Seek others to practice systems thinking.
If I piqued your interest on learning about Systems Thinking, check out The Waters Center for Systems Thinking, especially The Thinking Tools Studio. Their website states "It is a place to learn and apply the fundamentals of systems thinking in your own time and at your own pace, free of charge. The Studio features courses, resources and more — suitable for new learners, seasoned practitioners, and everyone in between”.