Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Systems Thinking

“If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory.  If a revolution destroys a government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves. . . . There’s so much talk about the system.  And so little understanding.”
–Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I am reading Thinking in Systems by the late Donella Meadows.  I highly recommend this book to change agents. 

Donella defines a system “as an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something.”  Accordingly, a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnectedness and purpose.    

So what is our purpose as humans? What is the purpose of our economic system and our businesses? What is your purpose?  While these are existential questions, they greatly impact the world we see.

My friend, Sharif Abdullah, will sometimes ask groups to imagine a world in which children are the most valued treasure.  He invites participants to share what that world might look like – outstanding and varied educational opportunities, economic security for families, parents with time to engage, safe and healthy communities, rich age appropriate activities, time to be a kid, etc., etc, might be group responses. 

Sharif then invites people to imagine a world where our elders are the most valued treasure and the participants create a similar, albeit different list of an idyllic world.

Finally, Sharif invites people to imagine a world where making money is the most valued treasure.

As long as the dominant system goal is to make money, then all our other problems will be subjugated to this higher power.  

What if the bottom line isn’t the bottom line?

I saw Dr. David Suzuki last week and he suggested the real bottom line for a human economic system should be the ecological, social and spiritual well-being of all.  

What might our economy look like if that were in fact the goal of our system?

1 comment:

Beth Robinson said...

Nice post. And it's helping me answer an internal question I've been having while superimposing the strategic thinking class of MBA with blogging about Thinking in Systems.