What systems thinking means to me

For me, ‘systems thinking’ is a way of being. It involves a way of seeing or interpreting the world through thought and feeling. It is an attitude of open-ness, of inquiry, of looking from many perspectives, inner and outer, of holding, or trying to hold, an awareness of my own beliefs and assumptions, of noticing my reaction to things, of understanding the world as an unfolding process where everything is in relation to everything else. It is an attitude of compassion and love, avoiding judgement, seeking to understand rather than be understood. It is an attitude that is always curious, always ready to learn and amend, realising that to truly know something or somebody, is probably never fully possible, that knowing comes in many forms and is often partial or incomplete, that learning is a subjective process involving a relationship between me and what I am seeking to know, which affects both me and the that which I am trying to understand. It means being prepared to let go of the need to be right, or the fear of uncertainty or the illusion of control.

It contrasts with the mechanistic, reductionist and scientific view of the world, perhaps transcending but still including it, seeing it as incomplete.

From this systemic way of being, everything else flows. I can interpret the world, sometimes as simple (mechanistic and linear), sometimes as complicated (but still essentially predictable, however complicated it may be), sometimes as complex (where the unexpected emerges, often as a result of human behaviour) and sometimes even as chaotic and un-knowable. In each case I can make use of different tools of interpretation, from the hard and analytical (feedback loops, systems maps) to the soft and fluid (rich pictures, action experiment). I can appreciate different perspectives and the influence of power. I can think and feel the world as a continuously responding process, a set of ideas which exist only in a mutually influencing relationship to each other and to me, which unfold, through conversation or perhaps dialogue.

And I can rely on more subjective, more ‘first person’ ways of knowing – inner and outer. Of course I can still learn from experts, but I now do this in the context of my own way of being. I can also rely more confidently on ways of knowing which are not openly accepted as valid in our scientific world – intuition, experience, knowing through enacting or being, because I have a way of testing with myself whether these are valid, useful or reliable.



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