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How to Make Difficult Problems Easier to Solve with Systems Thinking

How to Make Difficult Problems Easier to Solve with Systems Thinking

Everything and every time we think, we are projecting our own view on reality. [1] Revolutionary Systems Thinker and professor at Cornell University Derek Cabrera remarked,

“When we understand the world as being the result of systems of relationships, we better approximate reality.”

I recently came across Derek’s book Systems Thinking Made Simple: New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems and I was hooked! I was immediately converted to the field of Systems Thinking. In fact, I plan on using Systems Thinking as my new algorithm for everything I do.

    After speaking with Derek, I decided to write an article that was similar to a book review, yet also a how-to. This article will focus on Derek’s new version of Systems Thinking (v2.0), how to use it, and some tools to use with it. So, let’s take a look at what Systems Thinking v2.0 is.

    The Best Way to Solve Wicked Problems

      If you had to think of the problem that underlies all other problems, what would you say it is? Derek informs us that it is the way we think and until we change the way we think, we will find it extremely difficult to tackle wicked problems. In fact, Albert Einstein would have probably agreed. Einstein once remarked,

      “Without changing our patterns of thought, we will not be able to solve the problems created with our current pattern of thought.”

      So, what are wicked problems?

      “Wicked problems result from a mismatch with how things work and how we think or perceive they work.” – Derek Cabrera

      Why Systems Thinking Is the Best Way To Innovate

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        Personally, Systems Thinking is my “aha” or epiphany generator. It is the best way to innovate. In fact, there are three ways to innovate.

        1. Invent something new.
        2. Make an existing product better.
        3. Combine two existing things into something new.

        Systems Thinking is also perfect for learning something in one domain and transferring it to another. Along with his wife Laura, Derek discusses how Systems Thinking uses what is called a Far Transfer. This is learning something in one domain and transferring it to another in order to teach yourself 5-20 additional things.

        Derek and Laura discovered Systems Thinking v2.0 after developing an equation. Yet, it was his wife Laura who helped him translate this into the real world. Laura is an expert in the field of Translational Research, which helps bring the abstract into reality. They then developed Systems Thinking v2.0 through four simple rules. However, let’s look at a couple of key concepts to understand before we discuss the four rules.

        The Foundation of Systems Thinking

        Mental Model

          “All mental models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.” – George E.P. Boy

          This is the foundation of Systems Thinking. Derek informs us that a Mental Model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. Think back to our discussion on wicked problems. Wicked problems are present when our mental models are complex.

          Derek provides the following equation for Mental Models.

          Information + Structure = Mental Models

          • Information includes all material, information, or data of any kind that contribute to meaning.
          • Structure includes hidden contextual structure that contributes to meaning.

          Complex Adaptive System

            Complexity theory draws research from science that examines uncertainty and non-linearity. It emphasizes interactions and feedback loops that are continuously changing. This is why Systems Thinking must be a Complex Adaptive System (CAS). This provide us an understanding of a system and the system’s behavior.

            The Four Simple Rules of Systems Thinking

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              Let’s now discuss the four simple rules of Systems Thinking v2.0. These rules are known as DSRP, which represents four cognitive functions that we must have to form new ideas:

              • Distinctions
              • Systems
              • Relationships
              • Perspectives

              Distinctions

                Simply put, every idea starts with a distinct thing or idea. Let’s see how Derek describes Distinctions.

                • They are the key to solving wicked problems.
                • They identify what a thing or even a problem IS and what it IS NOT.
                • They serve as the boundary that define an idea.
                • The things we see and think about derive meaning from other proximate things or ideas.
                • Essentially, words mean what we want them to mean.
                • Key words: compare, contrast, define, differentiate.

                Systems

                  “A change in the way an idea is organized leads to a change in the meaning of the idea.” – Derek Cabrera

                  Similar to distinctions, every idea or thing is a system containing parts. Let’s take a look at how Derek describes Systems.

                  • Any idea or thing can be split into parts (deconstruction).
                  • Any idea or thing can be lumped into a whole (construction).
                  • A person who can do both (split and lump) is called a “Slumper”.
                  • Slumper’s are people who have the ability to both construct or synthesize ideas; additionally, they can deconstruct ideas to further our understanding.
                  • Key words: part-whole, chunking, grouping, organizing.

                  “What makes something a part is that it belongs to a whole. What makes something a whole is that it has a part. Every whole has the potential to also be a part. Your mind needs to do the work to see this. In the real world, whatever you are looking at has parts.” – Derek Cabrera

                  Relationships

                    Relationships consist of an action and reaction. Here is how Derek defines Relationships.

                    • We cannot understand much about a thing or idea without understanding the relationship between or among the ideas or systems.
                    • All types of relationships require that we consider two underlying elements: action and reaction.
                    • Key words: connect, interconnection, interaction, link, cause, effect, feedback.

                    Perspectives

                      “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Derek Cabrera

                      Let’s now take a look at the last rule – Perspectives. We typically identify perspectives when we are able to identify the boundaries of a system and determine the relationships in a system. Derek defines Perspectives by the following.

                      • Sometimes perspectives are so basic and so unconscious to us, we are unaware of them but they are always aware of us.
                      • Perspectives are made up of two related elements: a Point from which we are Viewing and the thing or things that are in View (Point-of-View).
                      • Being aware of the perspectives we take and do not take is paramount to deeply understanding ourselves and the world around us.
                      • Shift perspectives and we transform distinctions, relationships, and systems we do and do not see.
                      • Different perspectives result from changing the Point, the View, or Both.

                      “Perspectives can be used to make us expand our thinking and include more options (i.e. divergent thinking). It can also be used to restrict our thinking and cause greater focus (i.e. convergent thinking).” – Derek Cabrera

                      Fill in Gaps Through Systems Thinking

                        “Systems Thinking requires little more than practice in building cognitive building blocks. It is no different than building with different types of Legos, or the four different nucleotides in DNA.” – Derek Cabrera

                        Let’s look at how to use some of the tools in Systems Thinking v2.0. The first technique we will look at is called a Cognitive Jig. This is a powerful technique, one in which Derek informs us,

                        “Will increase our speed of thought.”

                        Types of Cognitive Jigs

                          • Analogy. An analogy is the comparison of two things demonstrating similarities. Derek informs us,

                          “The genius behind the invention of analogies was that they gave us a mental model of a common way we understand things (i.e. by comparison to a known thing).”

                          • Metaphor. A metaphor is used when we need to make a comparison between two things that are not alike, yet have something in common.

                          New Cognitive Jigs

                            • Perspective Circles (P-Circle). P-Circles change the point (a) or the view (b) which changes the perspective. Another way to look at it is from an idea (b) from the perspective of an idea (a).
                            • Part-Parties. They demonstrate a whole made up of parts. The basic idea is: 1) Break an idea or thing into parts; 2) Relate the parts. These can then be extended further by including perspective.
                            • Barbells. You can look at Barbells as two ideas or things and the relationship between them. Expanded further, we find what is called an RDS Barbell, where: R = Relate; D = Distinguish; and S = Systematize. Derek calls these “algorithms for innovation.” He uses RDS Barbells in solving wicked problems as complexity is hidden in the interrelationship between ideas.

                            Tools to Help You Adapt Systems Thinking

                            Lastly, let’s take a brief look at some of the tools Derek and Laura have created to assist us in understanding and using Systems Thinking v2.0.

                            MetaMap. This platform was created to help us understand exactly how to map our thinking process using DSRP. You can even use it to map an outline to an essay! Best of all, this platform is free to use, you can try it out here: MetaMap

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                              ThinkBlocks. These are 3D dry erase blocks that anyone of any age can use.

                                ThinkQuiry. This website uses what Derek refers to as “MadLib” style DSRP questions. These can be useful in helping us use the structure of DSRP to discover new ideas. It utilizes the Socratic Method and focuses on the questions more than the answers. Start to discover new ideas on ThinkQuiry.

                                  If you can’t tell already, I highly recommend purchasing Systems Thinking Made Simple: New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems. Derek provides us a way to literally generate new and amazing ideas. There are an infinite number of thoughts in our mind, and an infinite number of systems we can use to explore our thoughts. Systems Thinking v2.0 provides us a powerful way to explore our thoughts.

                                  Furthermore, Derek places everyone on a Consciousness and Competence Continuum. He describes the continuum as:

                                    1. We begin at the unconscious incompetence stage (we don’t know what we don’t know).
                                    2. If we are lucky, someone wakes us up and causes us to search for something more. We then move into the conscious incompetence stage, where we realize we have something we need to learn.
                                    3. Once we develop some competence, we then move into the unconscious competence stage. Here we practice a skill without being fully aware of the skill. There is some cognition, just not metacognition (thinking about thinking or cognition about cognition).
                                    4. When we finally move into the conscious-competence stage, we become aware of what we are doing so that we can adapt to where we need to be.

                                    Successfully progressing along the continuum means we have an increase in our metacognitive awareness, which is extremely important as everything we experience is an ever-changing mental model.

                                    Derek’s vision for Systems Thinking v2.0 is to develop 7 Billion Systems Thinkers! Let me end this article with three questions. These are the same questions Derek used to develop his vision and you can use it to develop yours.

                                    • Question #1: What pisses you off the most?
                                    • Question #2: What do you see today?
                                    • Question #3: What should you see tomorrow?

                                    Featured photo credit: Meduana, unsplash via unsplash.com

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                                    Reference

                                    [1] Derek Cabrera: Systems Thinking Made Simple

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                                    Dr. Jamie Schwandt

                                    Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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                                    Last Updated on January 24, 2020

                                    10 Good Habits To Have in Life To Be More Successful

                                    10 Good Habits To Have in Life To Be More Successful

                                    Habits are behaviors and patterns that you showcase by default. They enable you to carry out crucial activities like taking a shower, brushing your teeth, getting prepared for work.

                                    Interestingly, you follow this routine every day without considering them. Your unconscious habits create room for your brain to perform more advanced activities like problem-solving and choosing what book to read.

                                    Everyone has habits, and several of those habits are activated every day. I would classify them into three groups:

                                    • The first category includes the habits that you hardly notice as they have become a major part of your life- such as brushing teeth or wearing clothes.
                                    • The second category comprises good habits to have to be more successful-like eating healthily, exercising your body and reading books.
                                    • The last group consists of those habits that are harmful-like procrastinating, smoking or overeating.

                                    Habits are fundamental to becoming successful in life — or probably ending up a failure. Yet, as significant as habits are, some lack the knowledge of their capabilities.

                                    Habits are default activities that you engage in without giving an afterthought. They are automatic behavioral or mental activities. They help you carry out some actions without exerting too much energy. They simplify your life.

                                    Several people aspire to break bad habits. For instance, some people diet to stop overeating. They exercise to reduce obesity. Habits can hinder or impact your performance and productivity.

                                    That’s why I would share 10 good habits to have to be more successful in life.

                                    1. Begin Your Day with Meditation

                                    I recommend mindful meditation early in the morning. This practice helps you to be in the present moment. Consequently, it enables you to be mindful of challenging situations during the day.

                                    Different stressors may trigger as you go through the day; meditation helps you to remain calm before taking on the challenges.

                                    Personally, it helps me to devise strategies and think about ideas. Meditation is a good habit to have if you want to be connected to what’s significant in your life.

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                                    2. Be Grateful for What You Have

                                    Sometimes, you waste time thinking of what’s not enough. You become immersed in those daunting challenges. However, challenges justify the presence of hope. When you have life, you have expectations. You will be free from challenges when you are six feet under. The only strategy you have to stop focusing on your problems is to focus on what you have.

                                    Gratitude is a time-tested pathway to success, health, and happiness. It redirects your focus to what you have from what you lack. Here’s what James Clear does every day,[1]

                                    “I say one thing I’m grateful for each day when I sit down to eat dinner.”

                                    3. Smile

                                    Can you pause and smile before you continue reading this?

                                    Now here is what just happened based on research conducted by the Association for Psychological Science; you set a pace for living a happier life when you smile. A genuine smile or what’s called a Duchenne smile is a good habit to have if you want to find spiritual, emotional and mental peace of mind.[2]

                                    Smiling induces the release of molecules that function towards fighting stress. The physiological state of your body determines the state of your mind. When you slouch or frown, your mind takes cues relating to unhappiness and depression. But, once you adjust yourself by putting up a smile, you begin to feel a new level of excitement and vibrancy.

                                    Can you smile again?

                                    4. Start Your Day with a Healthy Breakfast

                                    Starting your day with a healthy breakfast is a good habit to have and forms a crucial part of your life. Nevertheless, about 31 million Americans skip their breakfast each day.[3]

                                    If you are fed up hearing that breakfast is a crucial component of your day, you are only fighting the truth. If you want to become more successful, you need to ‘break your fast’ with healthy foods every morning.

                                    This habit is not difficult to form if you usually rush out the door every single morning. You can wake up earlier to fix yourself a meal so you don’t break down during the day.

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                                    Get inspired by these 20 Healthy Breakfast Choices That Will Save You Time.

                                    5. Exercise Daily

                                    One of the good habits to have is to exercise your body and muscles every day. You don’t have to run a marathon or lift a weight. You only need to engage in less strenuous activities that oxygenate your blood and inject endorphins in your body.

                                    Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, classified exercise as a good habit to maximize his already jam-packed schedule.[4] He said,

                                    ‘I wake up by 5, meditate for 30 minutes, seven-minute workout times three, make coffee, and check-in.’

                                    He said on Product Hunt that he follows this routine every day as it gives him a steady-state that empowers him to be more productive.

                                    6. Manage Your Time as You Manage Your Finance

                                    Another good habit is the act of managing your time effectively. This goes a long way to impact your achievement.

                                    Time management is what separates the successful from the rest of the world as we all possess the same amount of time. How you leverage time determines your potential to succeed in life.

                                    So how do you manage your time effectively?

                                    Here’s Jack Dorsey’s recommendation in one of the Techonomy events;

                                    “I accomplish effective time management by theming my days and practicing self-discipline. These themes help me handle distractions and interactions. If a request or task does not align with the theme for that day, I don’t do it. This sets a cadence for everyone in the company to deliver and evaluate their progress”.

                                    And this is Dorsey’s weekly theme:[5]

                                    • Monday – Management
                                    • Tuesdays – Product
                                    • Wednesday – Marketing and growth
                                    • Thursdays – Developers and partnerships
                                    • Fridays – Culture and recruiting
                                    • Saturdays – Taking off
                                    • Sundays – Reflection, feedback, strategy, and preparing for Monday

                                    No wonder he was able to run two companies when others were struggling with one job.

                                    7. Set Daily Goals with Intentions

                                    Everyone has goals. It may relate to business or personal life. The truth is, we’re all tending towards a particular direction or another. Nevertheless, while long-term goals can offer you direction, it’s your daily goals that you establish that help you develop short-term goals that are essential for your success.

                                    Long-term goals may not give you the motivation you need to keep on. But when you implement your short-term milestones daily, you become fired up, and you can overcome the challenges that come with taking on bigger tasks.

                                    Here’s the main truth:Successful people don’t set goals without establishing their intentions. According to Jennifer Cohen of Forbes,[6]

                                    “What helps you to achieve your desired expectation is ensuring intentions accompany your daily goals.”

                                    Be intentional about your daily goals!

                                    8. Seek Inspiration

                                    It is usually difficult to be inspired for a considerable length of time. Sometimes, you become discouraged and feel like giving up on your goals when things are not working out as intended.

                                    A practical approach to stay on top of the situation is to inspire yourself each day. When you wake up in the morning after meditation, watch some motivational videos, and let the story of great leaders inspire you.

                                    Establish what Anthony Robbins called the ‘hour of power.’ Determine how many minutes you spend but make it count. Inspiration is the fuel for achievement because when you can conceive it in your mind, you can accomplish it.

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                                    Michal Solowow, an investor and the founder of Mitex, a construction company puts it this way,[7]

                                    “The problems I encounter in everyday life motivates me to find solutions. This is a self-propelling mechanism. becoming a billionaire was never a motivating factor.”

                                    9. Save Steadily, Invest with All Prudence

                                    I can exhaust the good habits to have without talking about saving and investing. Most times, you overlook the significance of saving for the future when you are living in your present moment. According to CNBC, a $1000 emergency will propel several Americans into debt.[8]

                                    However, it is not enough to save, and you must invest your fund and be wise with it. If you pay attention to this now, you will set yourself for a life of success in the future. Ensure you save at least six months in your emergency account so you can be prepared for any future emergency.

                                    10. Budget and Track Your Spendings

                                    Benjamin Franklin warned of taking the precaution of little expenses. He said,

                                    “A small leak sinks a great ship.”

                                    It is easy to discard little expenses, but the truth is they always add up. This happens when you fail to budget.

                                    Budgeting is a good habit to have, which can impact your financial life significantly. The money you spend on extravagant lifestyles can be saved and invested in your future.

                                    The Bottom Line

                                    Endeavor to cultivate these good habits to have to become more successful as you journey through life. The quicker you cultivate them, the faster you achieve your goals.

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                                    Featured photo credit: Andrijana Bozic via unsplash.com

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                                    Reference

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