Thursday, 29 March 2012

A Tough Nut to Crack

A week or so ago I found a link to an article entitled "7 Reasons you shouldn't touch systems thinking" on the thinkpurpose blog. The link was posted by Bob Marshall (@flowchainsensei) on Twitter, and I tweeted back to him that I found the item "profoundly disturbing". His response was "Excellent! Care to elaborate?", to which I answered that I couldn't put my reasons into a 140 character tweet and might end up writing my own blog post about it.

The 140 character constraint of Twitter was only a partial reason for not responding to Bob's question. The main problem was that I couldn't actually articulate my reasons properly - I just knew that I was troubled by the post. I've had a bit of time to think about things now so here's my response...

Whilst the article was published under a Systems Thinking moniker I think the first line of the text really sets the context:

 "Here's seven things you'll have to put up with if you start getting curious and learning."

It then goes on to list the seven reasons - all of which pretty much lead to the same conclusion. If you do start getting curious and learning there's a very good chance that in many organisations you'll just end up being frustrated, impotent and generally unhappy. But that's the price you'll have to pay for your efforts.

So. Is it worth it? Having spent most of the last twenty years getting curious and learning, I have been thwarted by many managers and colleagues (regardless of what position I've held in the organisation). I've dared to say and try things that aren't part of received wisdom and unsurprisingly have usually met with brick walls and head on collisions. Even when I've had a sympathetic ear, the discussion has often ended with something like "Of course, you're probably right, but that's not how we do things around here". And there's the rub! The system isn't generally geared up to cater to different  ways of thinking, and most people don't want to listen to stuff they don't want to understand.

It's not just about Systems Thinking, it's about any paradigm that isn't already compromised by misinterpretation (wilful or otherwise) or distorted for 'political' purposes. This includes the current buzz regarding Lean and Agile in particular.

We (myself and others like me) end up playing games - chipping away at the surface of resistance in the forlorn hope that one day we might make a breakthrough. Make a difference.

And this is really why I found the article so disturbing - because it struck a chord inside me that suggested that all attempts to change the current status quo will ultimately fail, which made me question my whole 'raison d'ĂȘtre' for a few moments.

But what the heck - at the end of the day, human nature is a tough nut to crack. But that doesn't mean you should give up trying.

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  1. Excellent post, albeit a little thin. Very congruent with my thoughts in just about every dimension. These days I'm more dedicated to a general campaign of education than to working with specific clients. This means I'm poor but happier. I'd be happier yet if I could find some organisations who wanted to improve - and wanted it enough to contemplate seeing the world differently (very rare).

    I'd just like to add one suggestion/idea: select one's clients and gigs with extreme care if making a (real) difference is one's aim or hope.

    - Bob

    1. Thanks Bob - I always value your input.

      Sadly I'm not quite at that point where I can afford to completely take the moral high ground but I won't prostitute myself for pure profit either. In the meantime, one can but try, so one will!

  2. Hi!
    This is MrThinkPurpose. I saw the link to my post in my wordpress account, and thought I'd come and have a look.
    That post, 7 reasons etc, is by far the most viewed and shared post I have ever done. It has been seen, according to the wordpress stats, about 2,000 times. This is more than my home page and 12 times more than my 2nd highest post. Although you cant completely trust wordpress stats for loads of reasons, you can use them to judge relative popularity of posts. It's been tweeted, according to, by over 120 different accounts.
    I am amazed that it has struck such a chord with so many people. It's not just me! Or you. As you say, it isn't limited to systems thinking but any way of thinking that comes from a different mental model.
    Someone replied in the comments under that post that he has had success with ST in his council. I have done some checking and I think he is at Director level. Perhaps that is it. Real change can only come from the top. Leaders have to become real leaders.
    You mention playing games, chipping away in folorn hope etc. I have discovered a release, and its my blog. I get paid to do research, like an anthropologist living with a tribe, in command and control land during the day time whilst doing my job. And at night time I write it all up. My findings hahah! I actually started the blog thinking it would be about systems thinking, it's not really, it is about command and control thinking and systems. The reason being, I see very little systems thinking, but loads of C&C.

    1. Thanks for you feedback! It's great to have a comment from the original source! C&C is easy because it doesn't involve original or different thinking - and therefore falls within most people's grasp. Ultimately we all pay for this lack of desire to change the traditional foundation of organisational thinking.

      Think different - although sometimes is more "Just think!"