Developing an Interest in Systems Thinking
This question, or a closely related one is asked often enough I thought it about time I actually wrote down a perspective where I could find it the next time the question was asked.
The question as posed (with slight modification)
- I am trying to introduce my organization to the idea of systems thinking, and I am looking for a short introductory recording either Youtube or DVD to help me. The leadership is a group of very intelligent engineers and scientist who already believe they are "system thinkers" but I pretty convinced that if I ask any of them to draw a CLD or a BHOT Graph to explain a system at work, none could do so. Can you recommend a very brief introduction, ideally something that will grab their attentionquickly and hold it long enough to demonstate the potential value of developing a shared language that could be used to analyze and solve a variety of problems ranging from management to ecosystems? Thanks
The answer provided was
- Not to be a bubble burster though I don't think a video is likely to get it. I think you need an example in their context that they can readily relate to. An example where they would develop a not very good answer, pursuing the situation from a systems engineering perspective, and a totally different, and better answer developed when pursuing the situation from a systems thinking perspective.
- You present the situation and let them work though it in their normal manner. Then you facilitate them working through the situation from a systems perspective and hopefully once they discover the difference the light bulb will go off.
- The difficulty with this approach is you have to find the just the right solution, the linchpin, that will provoke a different mode of thought.
- The problem with a video, any video, is that you're still selling. And the first rule of sales is, "While almost everyone loves to buy, almost no one likes to be sold."
Here's a couple of examples I've always been partial to. These might provide a sense of what to look for.
On Teaching Systems from Forrester
- I believe that confining student learning to systems thinking and to discussion about systems will convey very little understanding of the nature and behavior of the systems within which we live.
- To appreciate the nature of systems, students must have extensive personal experience in working with systems. This means creating system dynamics models on a computer, simulating their behavior, exploring how the models respond to changes in structure and policies, and comparing model behavior to the real systems being represented. Such active modeling should extend at least throughout the several years of middle school and high school. As early as possible, schools should move away from canned models that have been previously prepared for student use. Instead, students should create models,examine their shortcomings, and learn from discovering improvements.
- Students should gain experience in modeling systems in which they have a personal interest. Such systems can be drawn from family and community situations. Items from the newspapers should be converted to formal models to reveal student understanding of current events, to detect omissions and contradictions in the news items, and to provide practice in moving in both directions between mental and computer models. History and literature likewise provide material that can be made more explicit and understandable through modeling.
- Throughout student work with models, more should be learned than just the details of the models themselves. Beneath such models are the underlying principles of systems (Forrester, 1968). Beyond such models are the kinds of learning discussed in this talk. Students probably will not see such general and transferable insights merely from exposure to models. The larger and more enduring lessons must be pointed out. Such active use of the insights will thereby become part of their thinking and the way they look at the world around them.
- Complicated and Complex Crime Prevention and the 2 Feedback Loop Law by Terance Love
- Learning through System Dynamics as Preparation for the 21st Century by Jay W. Forrester
- The Prophet of Unintended Consequences an article on Jay Forrester by Lawrence M. Fisher