'Systems Thinking' Fires Up Your Brain's Ability to Problem-Solve

October 26, 2019

Two gears show system thinking
Samara Khan

Every time we try to make sense of a situation or try to think, we project our own views on reality. According to a professor at Cornell University and a revolutionary Systems Thinker, Derek Cabrera: "When we understand the world as being the result of system of relationships, we better approximate reality.”  

Being a professional in this time and age, problem-solving becomes a necessary skill. There are dozens of issues waiting for you almost every time you step into the office.

However, a relatively new approach to problem-solving that is gaining the attention of many entrepreneurs and other professionals is called Systems Thinking. This approach goes against the conventional way of fixing an isolated issue, instead of concentrating on the underlying system. A lot of us often fail to recognize the systems that combine to make our world. However, once we focus on the presence of these systems, we consciously make efforts to achieve the results we desire.

Moreover, Donella Meadow, the author of Thinking in Systems, who introduced the concept for the first time said, "Once we see the relationship between structure and behavior, we can begin to understand how systems work, what makes them produce poor results, and how to shift them into better behavior patterns."

Either you are working in an organization or running a business; there is never a shortage of challenges. However, even when things are going smooth, there are always a few areas that could use some improvement. Whatever the issue may be, systems thinking can help you find the solution.

In this article, we will be discussing a three-step approach to apply the systems thinking to any organizational issue.

What is systems thinking?

Here are some core principles about systems thinking that you should be aware of:

  • Every aspect of life can be considered to be a system, a startup, a team, a product, or a service.
  • To implicitly understand any system, you first need to understand every part of the system and how these parts connect. A business is more than selling or a product or services. It's a number of teams or departments in a dynamic system that interact and have an impact on each other.
  • Often, it is not possible to consider or experience the entire system. Hence you have to create a model for better understanding. Usually, this is the only way to get an idea of how different parts interact or how your team is performing and how they can improve.

A guide for problem-solving through systems thinking.  

  • Identify power points

To truly understand a system, you have to find out its leverage or power points. These are the points or aspects that you can tweak to bring change in the entire system. Sometimes a small change in one of the leverage points can bring a significant difference in everything else.

Some of the common leverage points in an organizational team would include communication channels, the hierarchy among them team members, and policies of the organization.

As you identify these power points, you can then come up with a plan to accurately deal with these points.  

  • Understand the patterns and trends

Patterns and trends appear over time in all systems, and they develop from the fundamental structures of the system. By analyzing and understanding these patterns, we can identify when the structures in the system need modifying.

For example, imagine your team is not able to meet the last few deadlines. At first, you might assume that the team members are lazy or not giving their all. However, after looking at the situation again and recognizing the patterns of the team, you may realize that the expertise of your team is different than the assigned tasks or they you don't have enough resource to meet the deadlines.

Only by looking at the entire picture and observing patterns it will be possible for you to find out the issues in the system.

  • Simplify the nature of the issue

In every organization, there are system issues, and there are people issues. A wrong hiring that's building up negativity in people and reducing morale is a people's issue. Finding a replacement for this person would be one of the power points.

However, most of the time, the issue is in the system. A wrong hire probably means there is a problem in your hiring/ interview process, which led to hiring the wrong person. This makes it a system issue. It means that the power point would be in the hiring process.

Hence, if you are trying to achieve team or business goals, but they are not happening fast enough, it most likely means there is a system that needs to be improved. Your product may need more variety to satisfy the customers better, or maybe the weak point is in your sales funnel.

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