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(Last week, I wrote about the power of systems thinking, my history with it, and some of  the risks of taking a systems perspective for granted, rather than making a conscious effort to bridge the conceptual divide. I promised to continue with some suggestions.)

It’s most effective, I’ve found, to do this with pictures and stories—and with numbers, but
numbers presented as pictures and stories.

  • Pictures include visual maps of entire systems (whether production lines or supply chains) constructed by a requisite variety of stakeholders (since none of us is as smart as all of us, and none of us has a complete picture of the whole)—maps that disclose the elements of the system in focus, the relationships among the elements (relationships which are not always mapped in management systems), and the potential value synergies that appear as those relationships become clear.
  • Stories include telling the truth about purpose, both corporate and personal,
    connecting your deepest concerns to those of the people you work with and sell to, and having conversations that create possibility—and increase the likelihood of fulfilling it.
  • Numbers include real-time performance feedback, presented visually, colorfully and contextually, delivered by tools that are easy, useful and fun, that provide each person a clear line of sight connecting their actions, impacts and goals, and in turn connecting those with the actions, impacts and goals of the team or organization of which they’re a part.

And yet it’s not so mysterious. You already know this. You’ve seen it in a child’s curiosity—including your own—about how things work, and how the world fits together. In the way you think about sports stats or football plays or cooking a holiday dinner or making a dress. The trick is to keep that fascination, and that pattern finding capacity, alive in even the most familiar and mundane of circumstances.

(By the way, If you haven’t read it yet, have a look at Donella Meadows’ classic Places to
Intervene in a System
. Whether you have or not, consider joining me and Sally Uren of Forum for the Future for a half-day workshop in applied systems thinking at the Sustainable Brands conference this June.)