Systems Thinking

The Forest, the Trees and Connections in Between


What is Systems Thinking?

Logically, we should protect our passwords by using a mixture of at least 8 alpha-numeric characters, sometimes including special signs, and regularly changing our passwords. This makes sense – but only if we are looking at one account, one password. In our ordinary lives, however, we are dealing with a SYSTEM of accounts and passwords: each of us typically will operate 15-20 account frequently, and another 30-40 accounts infrequently. How do we remember more than 50 passwords? We either write it down somewhere, or we use the same password, either of which essentially compromises our password security.

This illustrates the power of Systems Thinking – seeing beyond the superficial, and seeing how the system and its intricacies. Everyday around us, systems are working their devilish magic. Many of our problems cannot be solved by simplistic thinking – a holistic approach is required, and this is where Systems Thinking is useful. It teaches us to see the forest, the trees and the connections in between, so that we can diagnose the situation properly, and solve problems effectively.

How can it help me?

Systems Thinking makes one adopt a whole-of-systems approach to a problem. It enables one to distinguish between cause and symptom – for example, one of my clients was a national agency working with youths. Their problem was that youths registered for their programmes were often absent or inattentive – this despite good reviews on the programme content. Through Systems Thinking, we realized that it was not the programme content that was poor – rather, how the youths were invited for the programme was at fault. It turns out the youths saw the programme as a ‘punishment programme’ rather than a development programme; the battle for attention and pro-activeness had already been lost even before the programme started!

Another example is the common situation of a problem falling in between two departments of an organization. Both contributes to the problem, each attributes it to the other, but none really owns it. These issues are common in today’s complex organizations, and can only be resolved with a change in mindset – one that can appreciate the complexity of systems.

Workshops in Systems Thinking

We offer two types of assistance:

Education workshop – in which we facilitate a change of mindset, and introduce concept and tools of Systems Thinking. Through this workshop, the learners will be able to apply Systems Thinking on their own issues, and develop their ability in managing complexity and uncertainty.

Application workshop – in which we guide the participants in working on a real issue of their choice. This can be a workplace taskforce project, a group of people working on a tough problem, or a community project towards a greater vision. Through this workshop, participants walk away with a solution or strategy towards their issue at hand.