Dr. Russel Ackoff (affectionately called the "Einstine of Problem Solving") is by far one of the most knowledgeable and engaging speakers on Systems Thinking. Funny, whip-smart, and passionately engaging, his videos filmed mainly in the 1990's are a must watch if you are new or even an advanced systems thinker. You can thank us later!
MIT Sloan professor Peter Senge is a leading proponent of Systems Thinking, having authored the 1990's seminal book, The Fifth Disciple.
The book outlines the key approaches to applying systems thinking, understanding interdependence, and realizing the power this has in helping us change ourselves, organizations, and the systems that we create as humans.
We highly recommend getting a copy of the book and reading it, but for a quick and detailed summary of the core contents of the book, check out this great summary on Systems Thinker >
Cognitive biases are like contagious brain glitches that affect every human on the planet. Neuro and social sciences have identified and named hundreds of different biases that are socially transferred and replicated. They inhibit our ability to think and behave rationally, and they cloud our better judgment.
Cognitive biases that impact all of us daily include:
- Confirmation bias, where we filter information to see only what confirms what we already believe
- Loss aversion, where we avoid the cognitive pain of losing something
- Hindsight bias, where we think we knew something was going to happen all along only after the event has happened
- Anchoring effect, where are brains are anchored to the most recent piece of information that shift our perspectives of it
- Status quo bias, where we try to maintain the status quo
- Choice paralysis, where too many options make it hard for us to make a decision
There are literally hundreds more. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely has fantastic free resources to discover more of them.
Marketers and technology companies have capitalized on these biases, playing with the influences that subtly direct our behaviors. They guide everything from our purchasing decisions through to how we respect others.
But, there is a big issue here – implicit biases. These are the biases that are buried deep within our subconscious decision-making part of the brain. They subtly influence how we see, respect, and work with others. Implicit biases are causing major issues within organizations because they breed stereotypes and can inhibit fair, equity-based workplaces.
When it comes to effective, collaborative, and respectful workplaces, all humans need ways of categorizing in order to make sense of the world. Yet, these give way to prejudice (which literally means pre-judgment) and forming boxed opinions of people based on social markers of race, gender, and socio-economic status.
When we pre-judge other people, we restrict their ability to out-perform our limited expectations of them. As a manager, this often means you limit people's development based on limited expectations, usually based on judgments that you are not even aware of. As a co-worker, this can mean you unintentionally offend your colleague by saying something that seems reasonable to you but is not to them.
Understanding the language around biases, how they work, and ways of completely recoding them is one of the most valuable and under-used business tools today.
In order for an organization to respectfully hire, manage, and retain workers, they need to foster a culture of bias busting and respectful acceptance. This means the organization must activate equitable access and provide training that goes beyond a video. Simply learning about biases does not always help you unravel the complex brain glitches that build up and lock down over time. There are ways to override bias, but first one must understand how the brain codes the world and forms bias to begin with.
Our method for rapidly overcoming biases and building equity within organizations is based on extensive research. We have spent thousands of hours testing and evolving creative ways of empowering and motivating teams to see through the stereotypes and biases that impede their creativity, collaborative spirit, and productivity.
Edward De Bono is by far one of the most prolific thinkers of the 20th century. He has written +46 books and contributed many leading tools for creative and divergent thinking. You may be familiar with the Six Thinking Hats and the term Lateral thinking, which are are some of de Bono's most impactful works.
Fascinated by the brain and how it can be trained to be more creative, de Bono speaks and writes extensively on the misconceptions we have about the human brain. His quotes are often genius in their simplicity, showing his deep understanding of the limitations people place on their innate creativity. Here are some of our favorite quotes from de Bono:
“If you never change your mind, why have one?”
“Design is how you put together what you have to deliver the value that you want”
"Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way."
“Sometimes the situation is only a problem because it is looked at in a certain way. Looked at in another way, the right course of action may be so obvious that the problem no longer exists.”
“The system will always be defended by those countless people who have enough intellect to defend but not quite enough to innovate.”
"Studies have shown that 90% of error in thinking is due to error in perception. If you can change your perception, you can change your emotion, and this can lead to new ideas"
“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.”
“Humour is by far the most significant activity of the human brain.”
"Creative thinking - in terms of idea creativity - is not a mystical talent. It is a skill that can be practiced and nurtured."
“Creativity involves provocation, exploration and risk taking. Creativity involves "thought experiments." You cannot tell in advance how the experiment is going to turn out. But you want to be able to carry out the experiment.”
“We need creativity in order to break free from the temporary structures that have been set up by a particular sequence of experience.”
“There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.”
Systems thinkers can simultaneously see the complex whole and the minute parts that create it, in a dynamic and reflexive way. It is a way of thinking in three dimensions, rather than across one linear plane.
Adopting habits of a systems thinker is a secret weapon in solving complex problems, being a more effective leader, and enhancing creativity.
Check to see if you are a natural systems thinker:
You seek to understand the big picture as well as the intricate parts that make up the whole.
You see the patterns and trends within systems and can extract insights from them.
You see everything as being interconnected.
You identify the cause and effect of relationships.
You don't assign blame; instead, you seek out causality and feedback loops.
You see the whole as being different from the sum of the individual parts.
You appreciate the dynamics and complexity of a problem.
You think through the unintended consequences of your actions and design to reduce them.
You can find leverage points to intervene in and effect positive change within a system.
You are constantly testing, exploring, and experimenting.
In 2015, the United Nations announced an ambitious set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to assemble the world's private and public sectors to converge around the core problem areas that we must address as a collective society to move into a sustainable future.
The goals are universal and set ambitious targets for creating healthier, happier, and more positive lifestyle opportunities for all 7.4 billion people living on the planet.
Many organizations are using the SDGs to meet corporate social responsibility goals and to unify company culture toward a positive planetary contribution.
Which SDG resonates with you, and what are you doing to help solve and evolve the problem set around it?
In 2018, the UN's focus is on five of the main goals, including:
- Goal 12: Ensure Sustainable Production patterns
- Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
- Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
- Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
- Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, manage forests sustainably, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Our founder and lead creative changemaker at Disrupt Design was named Champion of the Earth by the United Nations in 2016 for her pioneering work in elevating science-led sustainability and innovation. All of our programs and initiatives align with the SDGs, especially with goal 12 in helping to bring about change in the way we design, produce, and consume products.
SHIFTING TO CIRCULAR SYSTEMS
It’s exciting when movements catalyze and bring together many great ideas. That is exactly what the Circular Economy Movement is doing. An overarching umbrella concept, it is used to describe the rapid, intentional shift from a linear take-make-waste economy to a circular one that values resources from pre-extraction to post-disposability.
Companies and governments around the world are embracing and integrating the many theories and approaches of the Circular Economy. Reports demonstrate the economic validity of this transition and the opportunities that designing products for circularity offers.
There are several key approaches that make up the Circular Economy, but the most important are:
- Turning products into product service systems (PSS) that maintain value across the entire life of the product
- Taking a scientific life cycle approach to understanding the impact of design and production decisions
- Looking to nature for solutions through Biomimetics and natural principles
- Understanding and working within the two main nutrient cycles: biological (things that degrade and contribute back to nature) and technological (things that go back into a production cycle)
- Using systems thinking to understand feedback loops and dynamics while also avoiding unintended consequences
- Viewing circular systems as regenerative, which means they offer positive elements back to the system rather than detract from it and destroy
- Maximising effectiveness and efficiency of materials and resources through design, known as eco-design strategies or sustainable design principles
The concept of the Circle Economy has been around since the late 1980’s, but right now is blooming into a global economic shift that will significantly change the way we do busines, consume products and design systems. The World Economic Forum and the European Commission have platforms and mandates to advance the Circular Economy.
In order to maximize productivity in a positive and regenerative way, we need to shift mindsets from a mechanical worldview to one of dynamic, creative, interconnected systems worldviews.
We need to apply our past knowledge of the evolution of the natural sciences to our organization and production processes and systems of today.
Creativity pioneer Edward de Bono argues that possibility is what makes a beautiful creative mind. In his work, he illustrates how the mind uses experiences to map and pattern thoughts.
It shows significant insights into the way humans can bust through linear thinking into lateral, divergent, and disruptive thinking modes.
For de Bono, creativity stems from being open to provocation. Stagnation of ideas come through the repetition of the same experiences and thus comfort is a killer of creativity.
How often does your organization seek out provocative new experiences that challenges the status quo so that your creativity can be enhanced through positive challenges?
Systems thinking, with all its different offshoots and branches, evolved to help humans understand how to be more effective and creative as communities, as collaborators with nature, and as contributors to the future.
Knowledge, meaning, and purpose are understood through the building up of ‘whole pictures’ of phenomena rather than the breaking down of things into parts.
By adopting a creative systems worldview, we shift our mindsets to look for interrelationships within and between systems.
When looking to increase efficiency, productivity, and creativity, organizations need to think about the untapped knowledge that exists in the deeper worldviews that people hold.
This helps overcome natural cognitive biases and unlock the creative potential of their human resources.
This will help us learn how to build regenerative businesses that give back, rather than take away from the planet.
One of the obstacles many people experience when starting to embrace a systems worldview is the infinite possibility of everything being interconnected.
This often overwhelms people, limiting their ability to see what is immediately at play in the world around them. So, we have developed a simple identification tool for people who are starting out in systems thinking.
Shifting to this mindset begins with identifying and thinking through the major systems at play: social, industrial, and ecological. This helps people to classify the intangible and structural systems to then be able see how they interact and impact society at large.
Social: these are the human-created systems that are constructed to facilitate and advance human society, such as education, finance, legal frameworks, and government.
Industrial: these are the products, goods, infrastructure, and services created to facilitate the social systems that serve humanity. Their physicality and need for materials to function usually categorize them. These include roads, transport, cars, petrol stations, and the parts needed to make each of them function.
Ecosystems: these are the natural systems that sustain life on Earth, provide the raw materials that facilitate the industrial systems, and literally keep the world spinning. These include the hydrogen cycle, carbon cycle, flora and fauna, minerals, and nutrient cycles. Everything in nature is circular. Humans, however, tend to make our industrial systems linear – which is one of the root causes of unsustainability.
These three system categories form the foundation for an understanding of how the world works. They inform the dynamic relationships between human needs, social order, infrastructure, and ecosystem services.
Of course, you see that they are all interconnected when you begin mapping them.
If your goal is to develop the capacity to intervene and leverage change within a systems framework, then use social, industrial, and ecosystems as the foundational building blocks for this approach.
Each of these three major categories contain many subsystems that allow one to identify and map the landscape within which one is seeking to effect change. For example, the human system is a subset of education, but it needs infrastructure, life, schools, and books to fit within the current model of education.
Without raw materials for buildings and food to sustain the educator – we would not have the ability to deliver the service of education.
When we run workshops at Disrupt, we always start with this map and then move into more detailed and complex explorations through analog systems mapping techniques.
Within a short period of time, people understand it. The world is complex, but it also is completely relatable when you start to explore its dynamic interconnectedness.
Individual growth requires the ability to reflect and dynamically learn. Why is it that you can have a highly intelligent person who is not good at thinking, or an incredible thinker who is not classically considered intelligent?
The father of lateral thinking, Edward de Bono, illustrates this phenomena through a simple example of a car. He says that intelligence is like the horsepower of a motor, whereas thinking is the capabilities of the driver.
These two are not mutually exclusive, but without the capability of the driver, the car doesn't go anywhere.
So – intelligence is pointless unless you have the thinking tools to unlock and apply it.
IS YOUR THINKING RESTRICTED?
It's hard to believe, but many people don't think very well. Years of structured education and work life often form neurological pathways that are designed to facilitate focused and restricted thinking.
These pathways minimize the danger of being wrong or missing out on the rewards created by schools and organizations. People often limit or box in their thinking tools, restricting the horsepower of their intelligence.
We are seeing more and more rigid and restrictive thinking in organizations, which results in a net loss of creativity and productivity.
More now than ever, the world needs dynamic, flexible, and divergent thinkers to help explore and evolve the complex problems that we all face.
Fostering Creative Confidence
One quick way to unlock your creativity potential is to make it fun... seriously. Play-based professional activities, from Lego Play to Gamestorming, are quickly gaining popularity.
These types of play-based explorations develop new neurological pathways and flood the brain with reward neurochemicals like dopamine.
We investigated the positive benefits of play-based creativity tools, and came up with 25 exercises called Designercise. These play based exercises help break down rigid thinking and build creative brain pathways.
How often do you enable an environment that deliberately fosters creativity? In order to enhance strategic and effective problem solving, people need access to the right-fit tools.
They also need time and techniques that will help them get to the end goal. Our brains are highly effective patterning machines, meaning they make sense of the world through creating relationships.
Yet, we are often taught to break the world down into individual chunks and solve problems in isolation. We instead should be solving problems in more dynamic and chaotic ways.
CURIOSITY & CREATIVITY
Creativity is not a special talent that some people have and others don't. It is the ability to break through the cognitive restraints and structures we all place on our thinking skills.
This is why conformity is one of the biggest killers of creativity. Curiosity is the remedy to conformity, and the way to enhance creative confidence is to shift perspectives on how the world works.
Creativity is a skill that everyone can learn – there are no magical potions or special talents that people need.
We are all born with the same thinking capabilities, and creativity is about how we design our brains to interpret the world. It is not some innate skill that we have or need in order to unlock our creative thinking skills.
Confidence in anything comes through positive reinforcement, and creativity is no different.