Mastering systems thinking in practice
Mastering systems thinking in practice

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Mastering systems thinking in practice

6 Summary

There has been a lot to read and reflect upon in this first week. You may have hoped for some more video clips, animations or diagrams to help explain or express the ideas that were covered. Don’t worry, other weeks will include these. You were told at the outset that the course will provide a challenge for you as it questions how you may currently think and act and words still remain a dominant medium by which we think and communicate about the world we experience.

In working through this week, you may have identified some of your initial expectations and what you think you will discover as you work through the course. It would be appropriate at this point to look at some of the questions you have been asked about your expectations again and for you to note ways your expectations have changed.

End this week by carrying out this reflective activity.

Activity 4 Expectations

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes for this activity.

Review your responses to this week’s activities and answer the following questions:

1. How have your expectations changed?

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2. Have any new expectations emerged from reading this new section?

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3. Do any of your expectations look less realistic now?

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4. Do your previous expectations seem more, or less, likely to be met?

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5. Do you feel able to adopt any of the attitudes that have been suggested?

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Comment

Most people move into and out of these attitudes. The difference being proposed is that you consciously try and adopt them as you improve your capacities as a systems thinker. Do you think these attitudes will be useful to you? Have you adopted them in doing this activity? How successfully? You may like to record some judgement about whether you like the idea of these attitudes. Notice that I referred previously to ‘a willingness to experiment with styles of learning that may not initially feel right or comfortable’. Does this reflect anything you are experiencing at this stage?

Notice your intuitive responses as well as your intellectual responses. Are you puzzled? Stimulated? Surprised? Excited? Hoping it will get somewhere? Eager to find out more? Suspending judgement? Frustrated?

Any or all of these responses, even if they are a little difficult to live with, are likely to enable you to make good use of what comes in the rest of this course.

It may be you are unused to, or uncomfortable with, the focus on yourself and your own experience in an academic course of study. This need not inhibit your learning, provided you recognise your discomfort. If you stick with it, the unfamiliarity of this type of approach is likely to disappear. The payoff: you can become a person who can think and practice systemically. Without engagement with yourself, systems thinking in practice is likely to remain a collection of techniques that are never really your own. It would be unreasonable to expect you to instantly recognise this is an effective way of starting to study systems thinking in practice.

Remember the metaphor of the juggler I introduced in the video at the start of this week? Based on my experience, I claim that effective practice involves being aware that the four balls I labelled as B, E, C and M need to be juggled and that it takes active attention, and some skill, to keep them all in the air. Things start to go wrong if I let any one of them slip. To be an effective practitioner, I find I have to continuously think about, and act to maintain, four elements: the processes of being a practitioner, my appreciation of the situation I engage with, putting the approach taken into context and managing in the situation. The four verbs, the activities, I am drawing your attention to are: being, engaging, contextualising, and managing.

But metaphors conceal features of experience, as well as calling them to attention. The juggler metaphor conceals that the four elements of effective practice often seem to be related. I cannot juggle them as if they were independent of each other. I can imagine them interacting through gravitational attraction, or the juggler can juggle them differently as shown in this cartoon. This allows me to say that in effective practice the movements of the balls are not only interdependent but also dependent on my actions.

I will explicitly return to this metaphor in Weeks 7 and 8, but as you move through the weeks do note down which ball you think is the main focus of each week.

You should now be able to:

  • describe how this course deals with the nature of systems thinking and systems practice and that these require you to take responsibility for your own learning and to question how you know about the world.

Next week you will explore the notion of perceived complexity within situations through the frames of messes and difficulties, emotional and rational reactions and systemic and systemic thinking.

You can now go to Week 2.

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