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.