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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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                                    Published on February 18, 2020

                                    How To Set Strategic Goals For A Successful Life

                                    How To Set Strategic Goals For A Successful Life

                                    There are different types of goals that you can set in your quest to become successful in life. However, when it comes to taking a leap, changing status, identifying opportunities, maximizing possibilities, and surmounting obstacles, Strategic goals are the kinds of goals that can take care of everything in the bottleneck and help you move from your current state to wherever you desire to be.

                                    Strategic goals produce strategic results and these include attaining positive change and repositioning of your life and status, gaining competitive advantage, achieving optimum performance, and living a balanced life, etc.

                                    In this article, I will share some insight into the thought process that leads to setting strategic goals, and how you can develop and make use of strategic goals to boost the key areas of your life. You will also find specific examples of strategic goals for your personal development.

                                    What are Strategic Goals?

                                    Strategic goals are specific objectives and results that you as an individual aims to achieve over a period of time, usually three to five years [1]. They are long term in nature and often emerge when you engage strategic thinking or undertake a strategic planning process.

                                    Perhaps, what differentiate setting strategic goals from other types of goals is that they are based on strategic response to some identified opportunities or challenges. When you want to make a new move or make major changes in your life, what you need are strategic goals.

                                    How to Plan for Strategic Goals

                                    In the strategic planning process, Environmental scan and SWOT analysis are two important tools you can utilize in your evaluation. Although these tools are primarily used in business, they can be applied to your personal situation as well and will be very helpful to you in setting your strategic goals for success.

                                    Environmental Scan

                                    Environmental scanning is an ongoing tracking of trends and occurrences in an organization’s internal and external environment that bear on its success, currently and in the future [2].

                                    The results of this scanning are said to be extremely useful in shaping goals and strategies.

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                                    As an individual, internal and external situations affects your success and future too and you need to track them to be succesful. Your internal factors include your strengths and weakness. You have control over these two and you can utilize, manage or improve on them for your own success.

                                    Brian Tracy highlighted 9 factors that can influence your personal success, they include education, skill, contacts, money, good work habits, positive mental attitude, positive image, creativity, and character.[3]

                                    Other factors that can affect your success also include market trends, economic outlook of the country you live in, government policies, advancement in technology, family situation, social influence, etc.

                                    You need to study these factors and review how they impact your success and progress positively or negatively.

                                    Personal SWOT Analysis

                                    The SWOT acronym stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

                                    Maximizing your talents and opportunities and managing your weaknesses and threats can boost your success rate in life. The personal SWOT analysis will help in ordering your thinking and give you different perspectives about your life. It will also help you to identify areas where you need development.

                                    How to Set Strategic Goals

                                    When you have identified the areas mentioned in the previous section, you will then be able to set strategic goals towards making the needed changes.

                                    Identify Strategic Issues for Strategic Goals Setting

                                    Strategic issues are issues that their presence or absence can contribute to your success or failure, or are capable of affecting a needed change in your life. When you carry out an environmental scan and SWOT analysis, you will be able to identify strategic issues and goals towards the end of the process.

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                                    These issues and goals usually come from strengths to be built on, weaknesses to be strengthened, opportunities to be taken, and threats to be avoided.[4]

                                    Clarify Strategic Priorities to Set Strategic Goals

                                    From your analysis, there is the likelihood that many issues will come up. Also, you might find that some of the problems are urgent, while some are important. Therefore, to be able to come up with more definite strategic goals, it is better to focus on the important issues.

                                    These important issues will represent your strategic priorities. When you know what your priorities are, you will be able to set your goals based on those priorities and create strategies based on your priorities.

                                    Examples of Strategic Goals for Personal Development

                                    To illustrate examples of strategic goals for personal development, I will assume that you have taken the environmental scan and SWOT analysis, and you have also been able to identify the issues of importance due to the gaps you have found and what you need to get to the next stage of your life. These have now become your top strategic priorities, say over the next three to five years.

                                    For example, your strategic priorities for your personal development for the next three to five years can be the following and they can be turned to strategic goals:

                                    • Develop Self-Confidence
                                    • Boost Personal Image
                                    • Advance in Education
                                    • Acquire More Skills
                                    • Achieve Work-Life Balance

                                    1. Develop Self Confidence

                                    Whatever it is that you do, exuding self-confidence is crucial to your personal success. Having self-confidence can help you perform to your highest potential as it gives you the energy and confidence to take action. It will help you to influence others as you become attractive and noticeable. It can also earn you a promotion at work.

                                    Plus, you’ll be more positive and make better decisions. Other than that, you will be more productive and be happier.

                                    The lack of self-confidence can bring apathy. You will be unable to take the necessary actions that can lead to your success thus missing out on great opportunities.

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                                    If you have identified a lack of self-confidence, you can set a strategic goal to boost your confidence through daily personal affirmations, reading books on personal development, relating more with people who exude confidence, attempting the things that often scare you, and probably also taking the 100 days challenge .

                                    2. Boost Personal Image

                                    Like self-confidence, the way you appear to other people says a lot about you and your chances of success. Paying attention to personal grooming; how you look and what you wear can boost your personal image and open more doors of opportunities for you. There are specific ways to dress for success. You can achieve this and still be on a budget.

                                    Besides dressing, you will also need to learn other attributes like wearing a warm smile when meeting people, giving a firm handshake, practice good walking steps, carriage etc. All of this will say much about your self-image. When you consciously develop this habit over an extended period of time, it becomes part and parcel of you.

                                    3. Enroll for Professional Masters Degree or Doctorate

                                    There is no end to learning and education is key to success at any stage in life. No matter how confident you are, there are some opportunities you will never able to access if you do not have the required academic qualifications.

                                    In your analysis, you might have identified some opportunities in your industry which you have not been able to access as a result of lack of qualification. It may also be that you sense that some new opportunities are emerging in your industry and the technical skills are not readily available. It could be your strategic goal to take an advanced study in that area so that you would have gotten the requirements by the time such an opportunity presents itself.

                                    A woman once took a study leave at her place of work to earn a doctorate in a reputable institution. She had sensed that there would be an opening in a tenure-based office in her organization and she was interested in that position. She got her degree around the same time the office became vacant. She applied and got the job.

                                    What a strategy! It may not work out for everyone like that but in her own case, it did.

                                    4. Acquire More Skills, Develop Existing Ones

                                    Skills are one of the most important assets that determine success in life. Skill-gaps limit growth, productivity, and opportunities. If you have identified skill-gap in your analysis, it’s about time to set strategic goals to acquire or develop those skills.

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                                    Some of the skills you’ll probably need most are problem-solving skills, creative thinking skills, management and leadership skills, IT skills, and communication skills. Acquiring and developing any of these skills will require some training, reading, learning, and conscious practice.

                                    5. Achieve Work-Life Balance

                                    One of the markers of a successful life is balance. Attaining work-life balance in this ever busy world would definitely require some strategic planning which revolves around time management.

                                    You have to allocate time and resources to every important aspect of your life: work, family, health, social life, spiritual life, etc and stick to your schedules as much as possible. This can be a long time strategic goal to work your way through such that in the next three to five years, you can confidently say that no aspect of your life is suffering a result of the other.

                                    The Bottom Line

                                    Climbing the success ladder in life requires strategies. In order to make strategic moves, you might have to carry out an environmental scan and SWOT analysis to identify your potentials and limitations and also identify the opportunities around you.

                                    This analysis will open you up to issues in your life that require attention in order to become more successful. You will then be able to set your strategic priorities based on the issues you think are most important to you.

                                    This then forms the basis for your strategic goals which you can set to achieve over the next three to five years.

                                    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

                                    Reference

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