systems thinking

Are You a Natural Systems Thinker?

SYSTEMS THINKING WORKSHOPS WITH DISRUPT DESIGN

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:

  1. You seek to understand the big picture as well as the intricate parts that make up the whole.

  2. You see the patterns and trends within systems and can extract insights from them.

  3. You see everything as being interconnected.

  4. You identify the cause and effect of relationships.

  5. You don't assign blame; instead, you seek out causality and feedback loops.

  6. You see the whole as being different from the sum of the individual parts.

  7. You appreciate the dynamics and complexity of a problem.

  8. You think through the unintended consequences of your actions and design to reduce them.

  9. You can find leverage points to intervene in and effect positive change within a system.

  10. You are constantly testing, exploring, and experimenting.

systems thinking tools with disrupt design

Circular Economy Primer

the circular  economy by disrupt design

SHIFTING TO CIRCULAR SYSTEMS

The circular economy is a $4.5 trillion opportunity. It’s a new way of looking at the relationships between markets, customers and natural resources, leveraging innovative new business models and disruptive technologies to transform the current “take, make, dispose” economic model.
— World Business Council for Sustainable Development

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.

The circular economy aims to eradicate waste—not just from manufacturing processes, as lean management aspires to do, but systematically, throughout the life cycles and uses of products and their components.
— Mckinsey and Company, 2016 report on the Circular Economy
from linear to circular economy

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 
 

Leyla Acaroglu explains systems thinking for the Circualr Economy at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's 2017 Summit in London. 

Looking beyond the current “take, make and dispose” extractive industrial model, the circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. Relying on system-wide innovation, it aims to redefine products and services to design waste out, while minimising negative impacts. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural and social capital.
— Ellen MacArthur Foundation

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. 

 
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming entire systems of production, distribution and consumption. Unprecedented levels of technological innovation are giving rise to new models of consumption – products and services – including where and how they are being accessed. This transformation will create significant economic opportunity across developed and emerging economies with the arrival of new business and operating models.
— World Economic Forum
 
How do we sustain economic growth in a world of finite natural resources and a growing population? With natural resources becoming ever more difficult to obtain and our industrial processes exponentially impacting our environment. Our future economies, by necessity will have to mimic the Earths Natural systems.

The Productivity Hack Your Organization Needs: Shifting Mindsets

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SHIFTING MINDSETS

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.

CREATIVE POTENTIAL

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

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.

systems thinking and mapping

SHIFTING MINDSETS

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.

The 3 Main Systems at Play in the World are...

3 main systems at play in systems thinking by leyla acaroglu

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.

MINDSET SHIFT

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.  

  1. Social: these are the human-created systems that are constructed to facilitate and advance human society, such as education, finance, legal frameworks, and government.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

Shifting Mindsets through systems thinking

DEVELOPING CAPACITY

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.

What is the most untapped power of the human brain? It’s not what you think it might be...

the power of thinking in systems thinking
“The most significant behaviour of the brain is humor because it indicates an asymmetric patterning system”
— Edward de Bono

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.  

 

Shifting mindsets and perspectives
“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”
— Albert Einstein

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.

BRAIN HACKING

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.