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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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                                    Last Updated on April 6, 2020

                                    15 Best Productivity Hacks for Procrastinators

                                    15 Best Productivity Hacks for Procrastinators

                                    Let me guess.

                                    You should be doing something else rather than reading this article. But due to some unknown force of nature, you decided to procrastinate by reading an article about how to hack procrastination. You deserve a pat on the back.

                                    Fortunately, procrastination is not a disease. It’s just a mindset that can be changed, however, here are some productivity tips you need to start getting work done:

                                    First, you need to acknowledge that procrastinating is an unhealthy habit. Not only you’re prioritizing unimportant things, basically, nothing gets done. Still unsure if you’re a procrastinator? Check out this article: Types of Procrastination (And How To Fix Procrastination And Start Doing)

                                    Second, your commitment to change is very important. You should be physically, emotionally, and mentally determined to change this habit. If not, then you’ll just succumb to the tempting lure of doing other things rather than your tasks or chores.

                                    Here are sthe best productivity hacks to improve productivity and keep yourself from procrastinating at work:

                                    1. Give (10+2)*5 a Try

                                    Let’s start with a classic but very effective hack called (10+2)*5 created by Merlin Mann,[1] author of 43Folders.com. Don’t worry. This is not a complicated Mathematical formula you need to solve.

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                                    The (10+2)*5 simply means 10 minutes work + 2 minutes break multiplied by 5, completing 1 hour. It is crucial to stick with the time limits and not skipping work and break schedules. The point of this is for you to create a jam-packed routine of work and break schedules. The result? You will eventually skip your break schedules.

                                    2. Use Red and Blue More Often

                                    Clean your desk and remove things that might distract you. According to a Science Daily study[2] about which colors improve brain performance, red was found out to increase attention to details while blue sparks creativity. Surrounding your workplace with these colors not only benefits your brain, it’s also pleasing to the eye.

                                    3. Create a Break Agenda

                                    List all the things you want to do on your break, be it surfing the web, checking your emails, snack time, taking selfies, Facebook/Twitter—everything.

                                    Like the (10+2)*5 hack, squeeze these in between work time but the difference is you schedule these activities for ONLY 20 minutes. Eventually, you’ll take your break minutes wisely. You’re finishing tasks while sidetracking to doing the things you enjoy.

                                    4. Set a Timetable for Your Tasks

                                    Like any other habits, procrastinating is a tough wall to break. Replace this habit with another habit. When you’re assigned a task, set a timetable for each step. Let’s say you have a big research task. Here’s a sample timetable:

                                    9:00 – 9:10 am – Set up all your tools, browser tabs, emails, coffee, etc..
                                    9:10 – 10:00 am – Internet research
                                    10:00 – 10:45 am – Look through existing files
                                    10:45 – 11:00 am – Break time!
                                    11:00 – 12:00 pm – Outline the research report

                                    Deadlines are the best hack for getting things done. Setting a specific time to finish a task creates time pressure even if the deadline has passed.

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                                    5. Take It Outside!

                                    Do yourself a favor and don’t ruin the comfy vibe of your home. If you need to work on a stressful project, do it in a library or coffee shop. You’ll never finish it anyway. Your cozy sofa and toasty bed will just lure you into napping yourself to doom.

                                    6. Become Productively Lazy

                                    Instead of finding all sorts of ways to unproductively procrastinate, use your habit to look for shortcuts and new ways to finish your tasks. Staple multiple papers at a time or master the 3-second t-shirt folding technique. A strong drive combined with laziness sometimes bring out the productive and creative side you never knew you have!

                                    7. Assign a ‘Task Deputy’

                                    It could be your colleague, your supervisor, or your significant other, anyone who has the unforgiving guts to reprimand you when you procrastinate. You could go the extra mile by paying up unfinished tasks or times you open your Facebook or watch a funny cat video on YouTube. Let’s see how five bucks every time you procrastinate will change you.

                                    8. Consider a Gadget-Free Desk

                                    According to a study by Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, average users check on their phones 150 times per day and having your phone just an elbow away just creates sizzle to this habit.[3]

                                    Removing mobile devices and gadgets allows you to focus on your work without the constant interruption from notifications, calls, and text messages. It eliminates the very distracting ambiance and the urge to unlock your phone just because.

                                    9. Prepping the Night

                                    Before hitting the sack to oblivion, prepare everything you’ll need the next day. This will probably take you 15 minutes tops, saving you more time for coffee in the morning.

                                    Spin class at am? Pack up your gym clothes, shoes, socks, etc. or better, create a checklist so you don’t miss anything. You can also prep your food into containers and just grab one before leaving.

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                                    10. Do a 7-Minute Workout in the Morning

                                    Exercising is proven to increase productivity and stimulate release of endorphin or “Happy Hormones”.

                                    Take a jog outdoors and get warmed up for the day. Don’t feel like running outside? Hop on a treadmilli. It’s a great investment and there are a lot of ways you can use a treadmill like endurance running and metabolism training. On a budget? Here’s a 7 minute, no-equipment needed workout you can do at home:

                                    11. Set-up Mini Tasks

                                    If you’re given a big project, break it down into mini tasks. Create a checklist and start with the easy ones until you finish. Got an article to write? Just start with the title and the first sentence. Or perhaps you have a visual presentation to make?

                                    Spend 15 minutes on your outline, take five minutes coffee break, then finish the first two slides. Accomplishing something, no matter how tiny, still gives you that sense of fulfillment.

                                    12. Create an Inspirational Board or Reminder

                                    I found these mini desk chalkboards from Etsy you can use to write motivating quotes.

                                    Or you know what? Simply write “Do it now!” and stare at it for 10 seconds every time you feel like dropping by on Reddit.

                                    13. Redecorate Your Room

                                    Redecorating my room motivates me to maintain that ‘new’ look for some time until I get use to it and eventually stop. So I redecorate again and again, it became a monthly habit really. Here are some DIY ideas you can do to any room without spending much.

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                                    14. Ready Your Nibbles

                                    You know that trip to the pantry? It’s just seconds away but it took you several minutes just to get your fruit snacks in the fridge. Before starting a task, prepare your nibbles on your desk to avoid zoning out and losing yourself on the way to the pantry.

                                    Bonus productivity hacks you can do at home:

                                    15. Schedule Your Chores

                                    Write down your chores in a weekly basis with matching day and time when you should be doing these.

                                    For the artsy folks, you can create fun chore charts like these or simply stick the list somewhere visibly annoying e.g. mirrors, doors, TV. The trick is listing as many chores as you can for the week and including unfinished chores the following week. Who likes seeing a long list of chores first thing in the morning?

                                    More Tips to Overcome Procrastination

                                    Featured photo credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters via unsplash.com

                                    Reference

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