Published Article: Integrating Systems & Design Thinking


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In this article, my colleagues and I present a case study and describe the benefits of purposefully integrating systems thinking into design.

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Published Article: Integrating Systems & Design Thinking

  1. 1. S YS T E M S T H E THINKER ® BUILDING SHARED UNDERSTANDING VOLUME 22 NUMBER 9 NOVEMBER 2011 FEATURE _________________________________ Integrating Systems Thinking and Design Thinking by John Pourdehnad, Erica R. Wexler, and Dennis V. Wilson Design thinking is a hot topic of discussion in management circles today. But how can organizations increase their chances of creating the right designs? Systems thinking can help designers better understand the world around them and avoid unintended consequences. Yet the most valuable principle that systems thinking can add to design thinking may be the need to bring the whole system to the discussion from the beginning. MORE ® PEGASUS CLASSICS Predicting Behavior Using Systems Archetypes by Daniel H. Kim The better we understand the structure of a system, the better we can predict its future behavior. Systems archetypes can help us see the structures within a complex system, while behavior over time diagrams offer a glimpse into the expected behavior of that structure over time. By identifying and working on the underlying structures that produce behaviors, we can help to create the future instead of just trying to forecast it. MORE ® TOOLBOXQUICK LINKS It’s Impossible Not to Make ConnectionsRegister Now: by Michael Michalko2012 Conference Our genius as humans is our ability to invent patterns and make new connections in our imaginations. One example is that of blending concepts. For example, if you look at the phraseSubmit an Article “They are digging their financial grave,” you know immediately what it means, even though thereRead Leverage Points Blog is no connection between digging a grave and investing money. We can intentionallySearch for Products apply this practice of blending to generate creative new approaches and ideas. MORE ® VIEWPOINTSYSTEMS THINKER System Problem or People Problem?RESOURCESArchives by Lee Jenkins Leaders of organizations must deal with people problems. However, they often attempt to solve aSubscription Options system problem as if it were a people problem. When teachers spend a third of their time in reviewReading & Using Causal of prior grades, when data is used to rank and demoralize rather than to energize teams, andLoops when students have their intrinsic motivation removed, system problemsPermission to Distribute are dominating. MORE ®CONTACT US PEGASUS NOTES ® Copyright © 2011 Pegasus Communications, Inc. ( All rights reserved.
  2. 2. FEATURE INTEGRATING SYSTEMS THINKING AND DESIGN THINKING BY JOHN POURDEHNAD, ERICA R.WEXLER,AND DENNIS V.WILSON A s readers of this newsletter are aware, systems thinking is evolving as an alternative to the old paradigms. Richard Mattessich wrote that “systems actually throw fuel on the fires they seek to extinguish. thinking is first and foremost a point of view and a Design Thinking Defined methodology arising out of this viewpoint” (“The In recent years, a great interest in “design thinking” systems approach: Its variety of aspects,” Journal of has developed. But design in management is not the American Society for Information Science, something new. Design philosophy has its roots in 33(6), 1982). It is a lens through which you can Egyptian and Mesopotamian bureaucracies. Even look at the world. That lens determines what you Taylorism was considered a new design philosophy see and often influences what you do about it. in the early 20th century! Currently, many contrast- Systems thinking replaces reductionism (the be- ing concepts of the design process and what makes lief that everything can be reduced to individual someone a designer exist. Additionally, many organ- parts) with expansionism (the belief that a system is izations are cited as examples of companies promot- always a sub-system of some larger system), and ing a design thinking culture (for example, P&G). analysis (gaining knowledge of the system by under- What does this mean? standing its parts) with synthesis (explaining its role In 1971, designer and educator Victor Papanek in the larger system of which it is a part). According wrote: “All men are designers. All that we do, al- to Russell Ackoff, analysis is useful for revealing most all the time, is design, for design is basic to all how a system works, but synthesis reveals why a sys- human activity. The planning and patterning of any tem works the way it does. act towards a desired, foreseeable end constitutes Many methodologies are derived from the sys- the design process. Any attempt to separate design, tems thinking worldview, including interactive plan- to make it a thing-by-itself, works counter to the in- ning, soft systems thinking, and system dynamics. herent value of design as the primary underlying Regardless of the approach, the essence of systems matrix of life. . . . Design is the conscious effort to thinking is encapsulated in the concept of systemic impose meaningful order.” wholeness, which is grasped by looking at the He further asserted that the general design func- whole instead of the parts. A system involves an in- tion must incorporate considerations of Methods terconnected complex of functionally related com- (tools, processes); Use (does it work?); Need (real ponents. Failing to consider the systemic properties vs. evanescent requirements); Telesis (reflection of as derived from the interaction of the parts leads to the times and conditions surrounding the project); sub-optimization of the performance of the whole. Association (psychological connections with as- With systems thinking, managers and designers pects of the project); and Aesthetics (shaping colors, learn how the parts of their organization interact, not textures, etc. into pleasing forms). More than 30 how they perform independently. Otherwise, unin- years later, professor of design studies Nigel Cross tended consequences may emerge as changes made pointed out that designers have specific abilities to within one part of the “produce novel unexpected solutions, tolerate un- system may adversely af- certainty, work with incomplete information, apply fect other parts. Often, imagination and forethought to practical problems TEAM TIP these new problems are and use drawings and other modeling media as Shift away from assuming that only much worse than those means of problem solving.” “creative types” can contribute to addressed initially. The term “design thinking” now generally Ackoff suggested that, refers to applying a designer’s sensibility and meth- innovation to knowing that everyone for this reason, many ods to problem solving, no matter what the problem in your group can do so. performance-improve- is. IDEO’s Tim Brown explains that, from this per- ment initiatives fail and spective, it is not a substitute for the art and craft of2 THE SYSTEMS THINKER ® Volume 22, Number 9 November 2011 © 2011 PEGASUS COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
  3. 3. designing, but rather “a methodology for innovation plications do exist in these areas, they are less com- and enablement.” Lately, some in the management monly highlighted. And while the strengths of tak- sciences think that a lot can be learned from the way ing a design approach are seen in the successful designers think and “know” that could help us with outcomes, the term is so common that it risks be- innovative solutions. coming yet another meaningless, fashionable con- American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce cept without true business value. made the case that when new data exists, and that data doesn’t neatly fit into a currently understood The Role of Design in Systems Thinking model, the first activity the mind performs is to Design in systems thinking is not the same as design wonder. Wondering, as opposed to observing, is the in design thinking. Many divergent views exist on key to abductive reasoning, as opposed to deductive design within the systems process; however, there is or inductive reasoning. Abductive reasoning is the agreement on a number of underlying principles that act of creatively thinking about what can be done systems thinkers follow when planning toward a de- with the data in order to orient it to the current envi- sired future. While a full explanation of these prin- ronment. Since the data is new, practitioners have ciples goes beyond the scope of this article, systems no method of reliably determining the appropriate thinkers generally aim to do something today to im- method of dealing with it; therefore, they must rely prove the system tomorrow. on a “logical leap of the mind” to make sense of it. In systems thinking, design is a creative act that In a recent interview, Roger Martin described attempts to estimate how alternative sets of behavior design thinkers as “willing to use all three kinds of patterns would serve specified goals. In the systems logic to understand their world.” He explained that community, design has become the preferred ap- neither analytic nor intuitive thinking alone is proach to problem solving and planning for a vari- enough to sustain competitive advantage since each, ety of reasons: the belief in the synthetic mode of while providing tremendous strength, also creates thought, the idea that the future is subject to cre- systemic weakness if applied in isolation. He also ation (design being the creative process), the con- made clear that the goal of abductive reasoning is cept that you need to dissolve problems (and not not to declare a conclusion to be true or false. In- solve them) through redesign of the system, etc. stead, it is to posit what could possibly be true. It is To understand the role of design in systems this mode of thinking that allows a designer to seek thinking, let’s look at Ackoff’s view on planning. out new ways of doing things, challenge old ap- Ackoff describes four orientations to planning: proaches, and infer what might be possible. It offers Reactivism, Inactivism, Preactivism, and Interac- the careful, balanced application of the reliable les- tivism. Reactivist planners embrace the past. Inac- sons of the past and the logically valid leaps of what tivist planners are generally satisfied with the way might be in the future. things are in the present and want to avoid making Design thinkers bridge these two worlds and mistakes within the current system; they seek to work to make the abductive logic explicit so they avoid errors of commission. Preactivist planners are can share and refine it. Information systems and cog- unsatisfied with the past as well as the current envi- nitive science professor Fred Collopy recently wrote ronment and seek change. They attempt to under- in Fast Company: “If thinking is at the center of the stand all aspects of the future that may affect the activity that we want to encourage, it is not the kind success of their intervention; they want to avoid er- of thinking that doctors and lawyers, professors and rors of omission. Finally, interactive planners be- business people already do. It is not a feet up, data lieve the future is subject to creation. They think the spread across the desk to be absorbed kind of think- best means of revealing a desirable future is by en- ing. It is a pencil in hand, scribbling on the board abling the stakeholders to do it themselves. sort of thinking.” While that depiction may be obvi- Not surprisingly, Ackoffian systems thinkers ous to those close to the design thinking process al- embrace the interactive planning perspective. They ready, it is not what folks conjure up when they first believe our failures are often due to misguided as- hear the phrase. Our institutions provide little or no sumptions made when planning for how our future formal training in the creative design process. ought to be. They think knowledge of the past does The appeal of design thinking lies in its human- not enable us to solve complex problems, and they centered heuristics and growing track record of suc- seek to avoid both errors of commission and omis- cess. We can cite numerous examples, such as those sion. We can say that interactive design is the exe- produced by IDEO, a California company that has cution of design thinking with a systems worldview. designed many successful products. As we read about the application of design thinking in the busi- On Designing, With and Without the ness world, we find that it is most often applied to Systems Worldview product-oriented problems despite its value to serv- Kenneth C. Bausch said that: “To accomplish its ices, systems, and processes. While successful ap- goals, system design cannot be a top-down operation3 THE SYSTEMS THINKER ® Volume 22, Number 9 November 2011 © 2011 PEGASUS COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
  4. 4. nor can it be expert driven. It must actively involve need to get into the heads of the stakeholders and at- the stakeholders of the design in shaping a shared vi- tempt to interpret what they think. Because neither sion that represents their ideas, aspirations, values the organization nor the end user has been involved and ideals.” Taking this view, someone who plans, in the entirety of the design process, the designers redesigns, manages, and organizes social systems need to elicit their buy-in. They also risk missing a must embrace a systems worldview. And given this key stakeholder group. We caution that unintended reality, it is the role of the stakeholders in the design consequences often occur when interdependent process that separates the systems thinkers’ approach pieces of the larger system have not been con- to design from that of the design thinker. sciously considered in the context of the whole sys- We believe we have identified the core differ- tem. It is in the use of what Tim Brown describes as ences in the systems thinking and design thinking the “designer’s sensibility…to meet people’s needs” approaches to problem resolution: where this form of design thinking strays from the systems thinking worldview. • Design thinking methodologies arose from the In a recent blog post, designer Kevin McCul- consideration of products and artifacts. The prob- lagh said, ”Let’s forget about design thinking as a lems are ultimately resolved by people identified as magic process, and focus on how designers and designers by trade. The design team observes managers should best work together to deliver great and studies the stakeholders. quality outputs.” The systems thinking worldview • Systems thinking methodologies arose from the offers a method of doing just that. We propose that consideration of social systems. The stakeholders by taking this approach, design thinkers can move are the designers. into a “Third Generation of Design,” which builds in a purposeful consideration of systems thinking The good news is that design thinkers are mov- principles. It addresses many of the challenges of ing away from the “First Generation of Design,” trying to get into the heads of others. A successful where the act of designing is the prerogative of a cer- design is therefore not one that is imposed on or tain talented group called “designers.” The First Gen- provided to the organization from a source external eration Design methods rely heavily on the idea that to the system. The best way to ensure that the de- professionals hold knowledge that is critical to the sign will serve the organization’s purpose is to in- design and inaccessible to the user. Professionals cre- clude the stakeholders in its formulation. Hence, the ate a design and are under no obligation to go further. success of a design is directly related to the level of This approach is the one typically taken in the past in stakeholder participation in its development. the design of operating systems. The designer devel- In the “Third Generation of Design,” the stake- oped an operating system design on paper, and sup- holders are the designers. They are not external plied all the documentation and blueprints to a sources of input. Instead, they are the concept gen- contractor, who converted the paper design to a phys- erators and implementers. An underlying principle ical system. The designer figuratively threw the de- of interactive planning is that people must be al- sign over the “wall” that separated the professional lowed to plan for themselves. The process involves design organization from the contractor or user. the interaction of groups of individuals with diverse Designers today more often operate from the values. The design facilitator creates an environ- “Second Generation of Design.” They recognize the ment where these differing views are honored need for collaboration among designers and external within the context of the larger system. Creating a perspectives to guide them. For example, IDEO’s shared vision of the future can also be described as Deep Dive methodology made it standard practice finding “common ground,” a place where partici- for designers to gain input from many different pants are able to get past the current situation and stakeholders, including the end user. The design make decisions based on what is good for the sys- team observes and interacts within the larger system tem. In fact, designing creative solutions becomes before going back to the design table to piece the much more straightforward if the practitioner is able data together and design a solution. Such ethno- to address the conflicts that arise due to differing graphic and anthropological studies have added stakeholder values, beliefs, and worldviews. tremendous value to the solutions that are gener- By empowering all stakeholders from the be- ated. This is where design thinking today seems to ginning, it is possible to tap the creative energy of incorporate some aspects of systems thinking. every participant so that innovative ideas emerge This approach still has its risks, however. Even from the collective of the differing perspectives. though there are many perspectives involved in One thing that design practitioners using a systems parts of the design process, the stakeholders give approach bring to the table is the ability to help an input solely from their individual experiences and organization take ownership of the ideas that never see how it fits into the whole system. The de- emerge through the design process. This is a critical signers’ role is still to piece it all together. They consideration for today’s designers. It is much more4 THE SYSTEMS THINKER ® Volume 22, Number 9 November 2011 © 2011 PEGASUS COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
  5. 5. likely that the ideas generated will be implemented The patients’ evaluation had nothing to do with the and maintained if the stakeholders involved are the quality of the medical care provided by the doctors ones who came up with the solutions in the first and everything to do with how they perceived their place. When people within an organization have had experience with the hospital as a whole. input throughout a change process and believe they These early steps in the design process gave have influenced its direction, the resistance to new people who had never communicated before a com- ideas dissipates. mon language and point of reflection. They also re- Designers must help participants uncover their moved the risk of blame and finger pointing by underlying assumptions about the problem they redirecting the focus to patterns that were happening think needs to be solved. Often, cultural assump- in the larger environment of hospital care in general. tions and traditions contribute to the dilemma. Cul- Even though people came to the table with different tural assumptions include those specific to experiences and frameworks, they shared an under- leadership, both formal and informal, which can standing that any design created and implemented have an effect on how people approach the assumed had to meet two systems thinking criteria: problem. Designers applying systems thinking prin- • Identify and consider the essential parts of the ciples can support participants in recognizing the as- system sumptions they and the organization hold. In this way, they can provide them with the means to de- • Decide the design based on the amount of velop a new framework and shared worldview. improvement to the system as a whole, not just to individual parts or units An Integrated Approach to Problem Resolution Once these criteria had been determined, the group considered the next question: In 2009, leaders at the Johns Hopkins Hospital antici- pated its 2011 relocation to new multi-billion dollar If John Hopkins is a system, what does the hos- quarters. Hospital administrators could have enlisted pital do to support the patient experience versus “design thinking” folks to look at the needs of the dif- simply considering patient care? ferent units, gather ethnographic data, and then lay out a plan with recommendations for the relocation. As doctors, janitors, technicians, and other hos- Instead, the Johns Hopkins team took a different tack. pital staff interacted with patients, the interdepend- Members looked at the move as an opportunity to re- ence of their contribution to the hospital as a whole design their current situation into a more desired fu- began to emerge. This analysis led to what can only ture. The hospital would upgrade its system as it be described as an “A-HA!” moment. The partici- upgraded its physical environment. Their change pants realized that two essential components of the would be systemic and not purely geographic. hospital were traditionally overlooked, yet had a Championed by a number of VPs, the hospital great impact on the patient experience: Patient formed design teams comprised of the hospital’s Transportation (responsible for moving patients stakeholders. They defined stakeholders to mean from one part of the hospital to another) and Envi- anyone who could either impact or be impacted by ronmental Services (responsible for cleaning the decisions made in the design teams, including throughout the hospital). This realization had signif- not only administration and management, but repre- icant implications for the new design. The additional sentatives from all of the hospital’s units, such as awareness that these functions directly affected both doctors, nurses, technicians, customer services rep- the hospital experience and the bottom line pro- resentatives, and custodial staff. Most important, the duced exciting designs. But most important, all of design teams included the end users: the patients. these considerations resulted in a new approach to Before starting, the teams attended a short course recruitment, training, and compensation for employ- on systems thinking. The orientation created a shared ees within these key departments. understanding of how the hospital operated as a sys- Within Patient Transportation, an innovative tem. Facilitators also shared information and data and effective design resulted from measuring how from research that had been done across different long it took to move patients between various loca- hospitals with the goal of finding out how patients tions in the hospital in a pleasant and timely manner. thought about and described the care they received. Additionally, this consideration helped the design The trends showed that patients valued more in a hos- team determine a logistically optimum location to pital stay than the level of care they received. In some place the wheelchairs in the new buildings. The in- instances, patients who had successful procedures creased ability of Patient Transportation to move pa- with high-quality medical care stated they would tients quickly improved other departments’ never return to that hospital again. Some of the rea- performance; for example, diagnostics will no sons provided included poor treatment by diagnosti- longer stay idle waiting for patients to arrive. cians; multiple room switches; unsanitary bathroom Furthermore, the design team was able to improve conditions; and long waits for transportation for tests. the internal communication system, eliminating the5 THE SYSTEMS THINKER ® Volume 22, Number 9 November 2011 © 2011 PEGASUS COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
  6. 6. additional work and time lost when nurses tried to bring the whole system to the discussion from the contact patient transporters. beginning. The stakeholders within the system must In the Environmental Services team, one solu- plan for themselves. If problem formulation is the tion improves the bed turnaround time, which also first step in the design process, then adopting a sys- means that patients won’t be left waiting in the hall tems mindset can help with framing and especially for a room at the new facility. The design team also reframing the problems. became aware that the Environmental Services unit We have proposed that the two approaches does more than simply change over the rooms; it complement each other and each incorporates com- also affects the overall quality of care in the hospi- ponents of the other implicitly. We believe it is pos- tal, specifically as it relates to infectious diseases. sible—and necessary—to create an approach that This was an epiphany for everyone. explicitly incorporates the strengths of both, thereby The Johns Hopkins example shows the instru- addressing the gaps and increasing the chance of mental role that taking a systemic worldview can creating sustainable solutions to the wicked prob- play in design. It also highlights how important de- lems facing organizations and society today. • sign is to any consideration of the system. By start- ing with an overview of systems thinking principles, John Pourdehnad serves as affiliated faculty in everyone was operating from a shared mindset. By Organizational Dynamics at the University of hearing trends collected from the larger healthcare Pennsylvania. He is also associate director, Ackoff environment within which they operated, the Johns Collaboratory for Advancement of Systems Ap- Hopkins team was able to develop a shared under- proaches, and adjunct professor, Systems Engineering, standing of the current situation. in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Moreover, by bringing everyone to the design meetings, the facilitators ensured that stakeholders Erica R. Wexler holds a master’s in Organizational who rarely had a voice were heard. For the first time, Dynamics from the University of Pennsylvania. She is a level power dynamic existed, which was a monu- currently communication & training coordinator of the mental shift from the traditional hierarchy with sur- Pennsylvania Bureau of Autism Services. geons and doctors at the top of the ladder. Johns Hopkins achieved its goal of a system redesign with Dennis V. Wilson holds a master’s in Organizational the ownership of those most impacted by it. Dynamics from the University of Pennsylvania. He is If Johns Hopkins’ administrators had simply currently project manager/senior process analyst at brought in designers to look at the problem, interview Penn Mutual Life. various stakeholders, and design recommendations based on the compiled feedback, they would not have achieved such a rich redesign. It was only by having NEXT STEPS everyone in the same room, under the same shared context of hospital trends in the larger environment, In a presentation at the 2011 Systems Thinking in using the same systems language throughout the en- Action Conference, IDEO’s Peter Coughlan and Seattle University professor Colleen Ponto pro- tire process that the resulting design had the input posed a process that integrates systems thinking and ownership of the entire system. and design thinking: Conclusion Define the Challenge: 1. Tell the story.Originally In today’s business world, design thinking and sys- tems thinking are considered separate things. The 2. Sketch trends.presented at the challenge remains how the design thinking commu- 3. Name variables.International nity can learn from the systems thinking community 4. Set system boundaries.Society for theSystems Sciences and vice versa. We believe that practitioners should Ground Understanding:(ISSS) 55th Annual intentionally integrate systems thinking with design 5. Share personal experiences.Conference, “All thinking to enhance the chances of creating the right 6. Explore analogous situations.Together Now: designs! We have shown that systems thinking can 7. Identify themes.Working Across help designers better understand the world around Identify Places to Intervene:Disciplines,” at them. Furthermore, designers can achieve more sus- 8. Make the system visible.University of Hull, tainable designs by following systems principles. 9. Determine leverage points.Hull, UK, July 17- Design can be greatly enhanced if it improves the Move Insights to Action:22, 2011. performance of the system as a whole, even if you 10. Brainstorm many solutions.Condensed with are redesigning the part. Being aware of the princi- pal of unintended consequences can also enhance 11. Prototype promising solutions.permission. design thinking. 12. Experiment to test solutions. Yet the most valuable principle that systems Copyright 2011 Coughlan and Ponto thinking can add to design thinking is the need to6 THE SYSTEMS THINKER ® Volume 22, Number 9 November 2011 © 2011 PEGASUS COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
  7. 7. PEGASUS CLASSICS PREDICTING BEHAVIOR USING SYSTEMS ARCHETYPES BY DANIEL H. KIM T he adage “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” captures an old belief that something “known” is more valuable than something less cer- hands in despair, we should be careful to differenti- ate between true uncertainty and predetermined ele- ments—those things we can predict if we have an tain. Taking that one step further, we might say that adequate understanding of the underlying structure. present circumstances are somehow more “real” than future possibilities. But such statements confuse un- Scenario Planning certainty with ignorance of the structures that pro- Planners at Royal Dutch Shell recognized the impor- duce future outcomes, leading us to assume that tance of distinguishing between true uncertainty and everything in the future is inherently uncertain. predetermined elements as part of the scenario plan- Another deep-rooted assumption is that past ning process. They defined a predetermined element behavior is a good predictor of as an event that has already oc- future behavior—hence our curred—or most certainly will never-ending attempts to fore- The better we understand occur—but the consequences of cast, anticipate, and otherwise the structure of a system, the which have not yet materialized. guess at future outcomes by For example, if there is an auto looking at historical data. With- better we can predict the accident on a major highway atThis article was out a deeper understanding of future behavior of that rush hour, we can predict thatoriginally published the underlying structures that traffic jams within the city and The Systems produce the observed behaviors, ripple effects on secondary roadsThinker® V5N8, forecasts fail when we need them will be the predetermined out-October 1994. the most—when the future deviates from the past. comes of that event. The structure of the system— Inaccurate forecasts stem from two causes: number of lanes, alternative routes, speed limits, either we do not understand the mechanisms govern- rush hour traffic volume, population density— ing the actions we are trying to predict, or the situa- makes the outcome very predictable. Identifying tions themselves are inherently unpredictable. In the such predetermined elements is fundamental to the latter case, there isn’t much we can do other than planning process, because it allows us to predict fu- take our best shot with whatever methods seem to ture outcomes based on the structure of the current produce the best results. But before we throw up our situation. Structure-Behavior Link REINFOR CIN G G ROWTH WITH NEW PRODUCTS The better we understand the structure of a system, the better we can predict the future s New behavior of that system. This is one of the Products most important principles of systems think- s ing—structure, to a large extent, determines behavior. Although there may be uncertainty Revenues New Product Customer about the exact timing and duration of the Development R1 Orders Today Forecast outcome, the nature and eventuality of it is clear. Knowing this, we can greatly improve s our ability to influence the behavior of a system. Revenues s Time Together, systems archetypes and Behav- ior Over Time diagrams (BOTs) can help usA reinforcing dynamic of new products increasing revenue, which is then invested in addi- identify predetermined outcomes of a partic-tional new products (R1), will initially produce a growth curve. ular situation. Systems archetypes can help7 THE SYSTEMS THINKER ® Volume 22, Number 9 November 2011 © 2011 PEGASUS COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
  8. 8. us see the structures within a complex system, while look for balancing loops that the growth in revenues Behavior Over Time diagrams offer a glimpse into might trigger (see “Identifying Predetermined Conse- the expected behavior of that structure over time. quences of Limits”). For example as customer orders grow, the orga- Identifying Predetermined nizational infrastructures needed to service them Elements also grows. As more people are hired, the organiza- For example, in many companies, new product de- tional complexity increases and places an additional velopment is the main engine of growth (see “Rein- managerial burden on those responsible for develop- forcing Growth with New Products”). As new ing products. If the company’s way of managing its products are released, customer orders and revenues product development effort does not change with increase, which provides more funds to pump back the changing needs (which is often the case in a into new product development (R1). In this situation, fast-growth environment), a decline in new products our sales data would show that we are on a healthy is a predetermined consequence of the “Limits to growth curve, and most forecasts would predict more Success” structure. The more the company tries to of the same. If we look at the situation from a “Lim- push harder on the growing action, the stronger the its to Success” perspective, however, we can go be- slowing action will become, as long as the structure yond straight line projections by better of the management capacity limit remains un- understanding the structural forces at play. In reality, changed. there are many different pos- sible outcomes that can never From Historical Behavior to Archetype M ULTIPLE FUTURES be predicted by historical data Behavioral charts can also provide a starting point alone (see “Multiple Fu- for selecting an appropriate archetype to use, since Forecasts tures”). Revenues could grow each archetype is associated with a particular domi- F1 at a slower rate (F2), plateau nant behavior mode that is characteristic of its struc- F2 (F3), or collapse (F4). Given ture. For example, imagine you are a marketing these possibilities, what kind manager in charge of a new product launch. YouRevenues F3 of prediction can we make for have been running a series of campaigns over the Today future outcomes? The answer past year, and sales have grown steadily. Last quar- F4 is determined not by looking ter, however, you noticed that the growth in sales at past data, but by looking at was beginning to decline. This quarter you increased Time the underlying structure. your marketing efforts, but it seemed to have little When we understand the impact.There are many possible outcomes for rev- structural landscape, we can The historical pattern of behavior can offerenues, given our current reinforcing structure better distinguish between un- clues that help identify possible archetypal struc-of increasing product offerings: forecasted certainty and predetermined tures, which then allows us to predict future behav-growth (F1), continued growth at a slower rate(F2), plateau (F3), or decline (F4). elements. In a “Limits to Suc- ior given the system structure. It is an iterative cess” structure, we would process. For example, the historical data of sales growing and then plateauing suggests a “Limits to Success” archetype may be at work. Having identi- IDENTIFYING PR EDETERM INED CONSEQUENCES OF LIMITS fied a “Limits to Success” structure, we can use BOT diagrams to flesh out the particular limits af- New o fecting our sales growth. How does the volume of Management campaigns seem to affect sales over time? Are there s Products Capacity pressures building in the organization as a result of s o the growth? What does the production capacity look Management like over time? Is the size of the market growing or New Product Customer Burden on Product stagnating? Charting these factors over time can Development R1 Orders B2 Developers offer insight into the particular balancing processes s s that need to be addressed in order to eliminate po- tential limits to growth before they affect future Organizational sales. Revenues s s Complexity Or suppose you are a new plant manager of a processed food company and you notice that a once- Growing Action Slowing Action popular product has been declining steadily in sales.The “Limits to Success” structure suggests that there are potential balancing When you ask other employees for their picture ofprocesses that could limit future growth. For example, as the organizational infra- the situation, they tell you that consumer tastes havestructure grows to service the increasing orders, product developers might have changed and the product does not have as much ap-less time to devote to creating new products (B2). The result may be a decline in peal as it used to. The declining sales coupled with aproducts and a consequent decline in orders (R1) declining level of investment into the product itself,8 THE SYSTEMS THINKER ® Volume 22, Number 9 November 2011 © 2011 PEGASUS COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
  9. 9. however, makes you wonder if something else is have yet to unfold. By identifying and working on going on. This behavior over time suggests that a the underlying structures that produce the behaviors, “Drifting Goals” archetype may be at work. we can better predict the future by helping to create it instead of just trying to forecast it. • Creating (Not Forecasting) Your Future This link between structure and behavior is critical Daniel H. Kim is co-founder of Pegasus Communica- in our systems thinking worldview. Linking each ar- tions, founding publisher of The Systems Thinker chetype with a specific set of behavior patterns can newsletter, and a consultant, facilitator, teacher, and help us see into the future with a different set of public speaker committed to helping problem-solving eyes. We can then see more clearly the difference be- organizations transform into learning organizations. tween true uncertainty and predetermined events that TOOLBOX IT IS IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO MAKE CONNECTIONS BY MICHAEL MICHALKO T he human brain cannot deliberately concentrate on two separate objects or ideas, no matter how dissimilar, no matter how remote, without eventually the company. The word “invest” encouraged them to find ways to invest. One association was the New York Stock Exchange. forming a connection between them. According to Rite-Solutions combined the architecture of the his own story, Isaac Newton conceived of universal stock exchange with the architecture of an in-house gravitation when he observed an apple falling and, at company stock market and created a stock exchange the same time, noticed the moon in the sky. These for ideas. The company’s internal exchange is called random simultaneous images inspired him to specu- Mutual Fun. In this private exchange, any employee late on whether the same laws governed the falling can offer a proposal to create a new product or spin- apple and the moon orbiting the earth. This in turn off, to solve a problem, to acquire new technologies led him to develop the laws of mechanics and estab- or companies, and so on. These proposals become lish mathematical analysis and modeling as the prin- stocks and are given ticker symbols identifying the cipal foundations of science and engineering. proposals. Newton’s conceptual combination created new As reported in the New York Times, “Fifty-five science. The same process can help you to get the stocks are listed on the company’s internal stock ex- ideas you need in the business world. James Lavoie change. Each stock comes with a detailed descrip- and Joseph Marino, cofounders of Rite-Solutions, did tion—called an expect-us, as opposed to a just that when they needed an employee-suggestion prospectus—and begins trading at a price of $10. system that could harvest ideas from everyone in the Every employee gets $10,000 in ‘opinion money’ to company, including engineers, accountants, salespeo- allocate among the offerings, and employees signal ple, marketing their enthusiasm by investing in a stock or volun- people, and all ad- teering to work on the project.” TEAM TIP ministrative staff. The result has been a resounding success. They wanted Among the company’s core technologies are pat- The next time your team faces a challenge, a process that tern-recognition algorithms used in military applica- use pictures as random stimuli to prompt would get their tions, as well as for electronic gambling systems at creative thinking. employees to cre- casinos. An administrative employee with no techni- atively invest in cal expertise was fascinated with one of the com-9 THE SYSTEMS THINKER ® Volume 22, Number 9 November 2011 © 2011 PEGASUS COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
  10. 10. pany’s existing technologies and spent time thinking teresting pictures at random that have nothing to do about other ways it could be used. One pathway she with your problem. Describe one of the pictures in explored was education. She proposed that this detail. List descriptors—everything that comes to technology could be used in schools to create an en- mind: imagery, feelings, words, phrases, and so on. tertaining way for students to learn history or math. If you think of absurd material, list that too. Then She started a stock called Win/Play/Learn (symbol: force yourself to conceptually blend the descriptors WPL), which attracted a lot of attention from the with your challenge. company’s engineers. They enthusiastically bought This is what a sales manager for a pharmaceuti- her stock and volunteered to work on the idea to cal company did. She filled one whole office wall turn it into a viable new prod- with interesting pictures of uct, which they did. A brilliant landscapes, products, people, idea from an unlikely source Blending concepts is a way animals, and symbols. Every was made possible by the new time she found something inter- employee-suggestion system. of thinking and imagining esting, she tacked it on the Just as Isaac Newton got his in- so natural that we don’t even wall. One day, she wanted an sight by combining images of a notice how fantastic this idea to differentiate her busi- falling apple and the moon, this ness cards from the competi- corporation created an innova- ability is. tion. tive employee-suggestion sys- She looked at the pictures tem by blending the concepts of the New York on the wall. One was a picture of a rural roadExcerpted from Stock Exchange and employee suggestions. through a field of sunflowers, and the other was athe book Creative sunset over a field of flowers. She wrote every de-Thinkering: This Is a Natural Way of Thinking scriptor that came to mind for roads, sunsets, andPutting Your Blending concepts is a way of thinking and imagin- flowers. One of her descriptors for the field of flow-Imagination to ing so natural that we don’t even notice how fantastic ers was “seed.” The idea of a “seed” intrigued her,Work ©2011 by this ability is. A good example is the ordinary as she thought of a business card as a seed for futureMichael Michalko. metaphor. If you look at a phrase such as “They are business.Printed with digging their financial grave,” you know immediately Over the next few hours, she simultaneouslypermission of what is meant. Yet there is no connection whatsoever thought about a seed and business cards, and thenNew World between digging a grave and investing money. There conceptually blended the two into an ingeniousLibrary, is no logical way to connect graves and money. How idea. She had the company’s business cards embed-Novato, CA. is it possible to know what this means? ded with flower seeds. Once customers read thewww.newworld Your mind takes one input, “grave digging,” cards, they can place them in a glass of water or and another input, “financial investment,” and con- the ground, and within a few days they will start to ceptually blends them together. But the meaning grow. Now the card becomes a flower that con- isn’t contained in either input; the meaning is con- stantly reminds the customer of the company. This structed in the blend. Through conscious and sub- is the kind of idea you cannot get using the preju- conscious elaboration, the blend develops a dices of logical thinking. structure not provided by the inputs to create an We all have the gift to make associations like emergent new meaning. these. Psychologists have found that if you put peo- How can you connect a coconut, a sensor, and ple in a room with a contraption containing light airplane noise? An activist-researcher whose work bulbs wired to blink on and off at random, they will focuses on the intersections between art, activism, quickly discern what they believe are patterns and and technology became annoyed at the noise made will develop theories for predicting which bulb will by aircraft flying over the city he lived in. He con- be next to blink. Our genius as humans is our ability structed a site-specific art installation, Tripwire, to create elaborate architectures in our imaginations which responded to the relationship between the to invent patterns and make new connections. • airport and downtown. He placed sensors inside co- conuts and hung them from trees in several down- town locations to monitor aircraft noise. Detection of Michael Michalko is the author of Creative Thinkering, excessive aircraft noise causes the sensors to trigger Thinkertoys, Cracking Creativity, and ThinkPak. automated telephone calls to the airport’s complaint While an army officer, he organized a team of NATO line on behalf of the city’s residents and wildlife. intelligence specialists and international academics to find the best inventive thinking method. He has Use Pictures and Illustrations As Random expanded and taught these techniques to numerous Stimuli Fortune 500 companies and organizations. He lives in Pictures, photographs, and illustrations are excellent Rochester, New York. Visit him online at sources of unrelated stimuli. Select two or three in- THE SYSTEMS THINKER ® Volume 22, Number 9 November 2011 © 2011 PEGASUS COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
  11. 11. VIEWPOINT SYSTEM PROBLEM OR PEOPLE PROBLEM? BY LEE JENKINS M ost followers of systems thinking literature are probably aware of W. Edwards Deming’s esti- mate that 94 to 97 percent of our problems stem from Case Applications Three other examples demonstrate how McCain’s rating scale can assist leaders in separating people the system, with the remaining problems caused by problems from system problems. In each instance, I human error or poor judgment. Sometimes when rate the severity of the problem based on question- leaders of an organization hear this percentage, they naires provided to me by seminar participants. misunderstand. They assume the problems are either in the legislative or the societal systems. They further System Problem No. 1: Beginning with first-grade rationalize that since they have little effect on either spelling, students soon learn they have permission to society or legislation, they can do nothing to really forget almost everything that is taught. On average, improve the situation. teachers tell me they spend a third of the year teach- This is the attitude of a victim and couldn’t be ing content students should know prior to entering further from Deming’s teachings. Leaders are re- their classroom. The students “learned the content,” sponsible for working on their system. Yes, there are wrote it down for an exam or quiz, and promptly did systemic problems with society and legislation—for a brain dump. (Rating: 10) instance, problems with a huge impact upon public System Problem No. 2: Data typically is used to rank education. However, education owns its own set of students, classes, grade levels/departments, or schools, problems that cannot be solved by either society or not to inform them whether they are improving. Ex- legislation. Only leaders can fix the education prob- amples of ranking include stickers on walls, forced lems that education owns. bell curves, and other student-to-student comparisons. Students rarely see data constructed so that a class- Rating Scale room is considered a team working together to have as Cecilia McCain, writing in the September 2006 issue many as possible meet standards, for example, How of Quality Progress magazine, provided an “Occur- many words can our classroom read in a minute? How rence Rating Table” that can be of significant help in many ions can the chemistry class identify? At least 1 determining whether something is a system problem of 5 teachers and 1 of 5 schools use data in ways that or a people problem and which system problems to discourage rather than encourage students. (Rating: 9) address first. McCain’s scale ranges from 1 to 10, with 1 meaning the problem has a chance of occur- System Problem No. 3: Students are losing their en- ring once in 30,000 attempts and 10 meaning the thusiasm for school at an alarming rate. This problem problem has a 1 in 3 chance of recurring. needs a new level of scoring—an 11. There is a 2 out For example, you could use this scale to examine of 3 chance a student by the end of grade 8 will have the use of illegal drugs by school bus drivers. Sup- lost his or her enthusiasm for school. pose the district has 25 bus drivers driving 180 days a Teachers do not wake up in the morning and ask, year and another five drivers who work 240 days a “Who can I discourage today?” It is a system prob- year for a total of 5,700 bus days per school year. If lem. In their respective books, Continuous Improve- on average one bus driver tests positive for illegal ment in the History/Social Science Classroom and drugs every six years, this is a level 1 problem. It Continuous Improvement in the Science Classroom, does not mean that random drug testing should halt, Shelly Carson and Jeff Burgard describe how to stop but when the one incident does occur, this issue as a this loss of enthusiasm. Their advice was an impor- whole should not rise to the top of the superinten- tant aspect of the Palatine, IL, school district earning dent’s priority list. the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in On the other hand, when an administrator stops 2003. by a classroom, there is a 1 in 3 chance the teacher Of course leaders of organizations must deal with will be reteaching something students should have people problems. However, they often attempt to learned in a prior grade. This is not a people problem; solve a system problem as if it were a people problem. it is a system problem that is owned by education. (Continued on page 12)11 THE SYSTEMS THINKER ® Volume 22, Number 9 November 2011 © 2011 PEGASUS COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
  12. 12. PEGASUS NOTES(Continued from page 11) Early-Bird Registration for the 2012When teachers spend a third of Systems Thinking in Action Conference®their time in review of priorgrades, when data is used to November 12-14, 2012rank and demoralize rather than Downtown Marriott Hotel • Indianapolis, Indianato energize teams, and when stu-dents have their intrinsic moti- “[The 2011vation removed, system conference] was a “This isproblems are dominating. • “The topics wow experience. the best were varied enough for I can’t stop thinking or conference I a beginner to engage and talking about it.” have everLee Jenkins is the director of the track all the way through, attended!”From LtoJ Consulting Group as well as keep others coming back for their( He is 5th or 10th time.the co-author of Boot Camp for Well done!”Leaders in K-12 Education:Continuous Improvement. This is The reviews are in—our 21st annual conference was a tremendous success! Take advantage of oura condensed version of an article early-bird special to register for Systems Thinking in Action 2012 for only $650—more thanby the same title that appeared in 50% off the full registration fee. You must register by January 31 to take advantage of this specialThe School Administrator, Febru- discounted price!ary 2007, Number 2, Vol. 64. Pegasus On-Demand! The five keynote speakers at this year’s Systems Thinking THE SYSTEMS THINKER® in Action Conference—Charlotte Roberts, Katie Salen, David Sibbet, Tom Crum, and Peter Senge—received rave EDITOR: Janice Molloy ( reviews. Now you can see them on your own computer through FOUNDING PUBLISHER: Daniel H. Kim our new Pegasus On-Demand Library. PRODUCTION: Nancy Daugherty CIRCULATION: Eric Kraus ( Pegasus On-Demand provides you with 24/7 access to: THE SYSTEMS THINKER® explores both the the- ory and practice of systems thinking and related organizational development disciplines. Articles by leading thinkers and practitioners articulate the # Invaluable tools, tips, and real-world applications of systems thinking to help you challenges and issues involved in creating organi- successfully improve your organization and achieve the results you want. zations on the leading edge of innovation. We en- courage dialogue about systemic issues and strive to provide a forum for debating such issues. Unsolicited articles, stories, and letters to the edi- # Proven techniques for implementing your change management initiatives— tor are welcome. and making them stick! THE SYSTEMS THINKER® (ISSN 1050-2726) is published 10 times a year by Pegasus Communi- cations, Inc. Signed articles represent the opin- # New webinars each month featuring relevant and innovative thought leaders and ions of the authors and not necessarily those of practitioners. It’s almost like having your own coaching staff available when the editors. The list price is $189.00 for one year. Site licenses, volume discounts, and back issues and where you want! are also available. Copyright © 2011 Pegasus Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this news- letter may be reproduced or transmitted in any For a limited time, view a free webinar by David Sibbet so you can experience the benefits of form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, online access to the ideas and tools you need to improve your team’s performance right now. including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without You can also preview the entire Pegasus On-Demand Library! written permission from Pegasus Communications. ORDERS AND PAYMENTS INFORMATION Phone 800-272-0945 • 781-398-9700 • Fax 781-894-7175 EDITORIAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE STAFF Phone 781-398-9700 • Fax 781-894-7175 One Moody Street / Waltham, MA 02453 USA www.pegasuscom.com12 THE SYSTEMS THINKER ® Volume 22, Number 9 Novemberr 2011 © 2011 PEGASUS COMMUNICATIONS, INC.