People and System Thinking

I am a big believer in system thinking. This can be pretty simply defined as believing that people are doing the best that they can, and that the system they are required to operate in is what dictates the results. Another way of looking at it is realizing that if you put any person in the same situation in a given system, you will almost always get the same results.

In other words: It isn’t their fault, it’s the system that is causing fault.

Interestingly these systems emerge because groups of people try to create ways of organizing things and removing chaos from their proximity. Sometimes aspects of systems are created intentionally by adopting a specific rule set. Often times, however, huge aspects of the larger system were never explicitly designed, but instead organically turn into a way of operating. The point being that people create the very systems that stop them from being successful.

In a lot of my research and experience many people who are system thinkers like myself try to only focus on the actual system that has emerged. They wind up frustrated as people balk and reject changes to the system around them even if it promises to have good results. So then all these brilliant system thinkers who see how to make a system more effective for everyone wind up coaching and working with people instead of simply mandating rules.

The organization of people created and hold the system up, it makes sense that they are the ones who have to change it.

So, this all left me with a curious notion. When something is going wrong and the system is at fault, instead of thinking, “How am I going to make this different,” think, “How am I going to be different?”