By reading books on systems theory and systems thinking, the story of its development makes it seem like a modern development. When in fact systemic thinking has been part of human consciousness as long as we have been human. Called participatory or systemic consciousness, this consciousness is rooted in the world view that recognizes humans as belonging to, and participating in this living world. Since the Scientific and Industrial revolution in the West relegated to the margins of western philosophy and scientific enterprise. The Romantic Movement and the Arts and Crafts Movement are two such examples. 冰 冻 三尺，非一日之寒 - t hree feet of ice is not the result of one cold day en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Chinese_proverbs ･ 斩 草不除根，春 风 吹又生 (pinyin: zhan3 cao3 bu4 chu2 gen1, chun1 feng1 chui1 you4 sheng1) ･ Literally: If the roots are not removed during weeding, the weeds will grow again when the winds of Spring blows. ･ Moral:1)It is essential to finish a task thoroughly or the effort would be wasted2) To solve any problems, the source of the problem must also be dealt with. ･ Compare: A stitch in time saves nine (approximate English equivalent).
Helped to revive participatory consciousness. from the margin more toward the center of mainstream science and contemporary life.
The development of Systems Theory and its many variations signals a relocation of a participatory consciousness out of the margins into the main currents of contemporary science and western life. Moreover, as an applied science it serves to cultivate the development of this consciousness in contemporary life
Systems theory was part of re-emergence.
Authors Wilfred Drath, Peter Senge, Richard Heifetz, Margaret Wheatley and Nathan Harter are some of the few who have incorporated systems theory into their writings on leadership Systems theory as a generative map for the kind of territory within which leadership practitioners live and act
“ Maps” reflect our world-views by rendering certain features of the territory. They, in turn, inform what parts of the territory we see and interact with. They guide others to experience certain features over others. Multiple maps will open up different dimensions of the territory,
Leadership is a relational activity that takes place in complex social organizations, in which dynamic change is the norm We live in an era which is highly turbulent and inextricably interdependent
This is not to say that leadership practitioners need just one map. Good travelers use multiple maps to reflect the different features of the territory. By incorporating systems theory into leadership practice, one can correct and compensate for the limitations of overuse of one kind of map, and employ a map that is particularly suited for 21 st Century reality. And by employing this map the leadership practitioner also cultivates a kind of thinking or consciousness that has been integral to human life and evolution for centuries. In this way leadership development becomes not only about developing practical knowledge it also becomes an embodied engagement with the world in which one belongs and in which one participates and serves. In my view nothing less than that will bring about the necessary changes needed in today’s world toward not only survival but for human and planetary flourishing.
So a map informed by this paradigm will serve leadership practitioner to relocate the human subject from outside of the phenomenon that he or she seeks to influence to inside as an active participant. In this map the organization is recognized as living system embedded in particular ecological, cultural, historical, and political context that is inherently dynamic, which involves different degrees and levels of complexity.
Again, what I am after is not knowledge of systems theory but a way thinking and a consciousness that is fundamentally systemic. Systems theory and practice are the paths to developing this consciousness.
A system is less a thing than it is a process. Noun versus verb. Its properties can only be understood in terms of its interactions, as opposed to the compositions of these parts. Application: In trying to understand the phenomenon that one is trying to influence, one needs to look at the patterns of interaction. Look to notice patterns of relations or interactions, qualities of relations, interconnections. questions like what kind of patterns are in play? What are the relational processes that are active? What are the kinds of interconnections occurring? By generating questions regarding organization, relationships, processes, one experiences organizational life more and more in terms of this characteristic.
In both mechanical and living, systems adjusts itself in response to deviations from a programmed norm or parameter. A thermostat is a very common example. Maintaining blood temperature in a mammalian body is one example The system has sensors that register when there is a deviation, and adjusts itself to reduce that deviation in order for it to get back on track. Most management practices act as self-stabilizing functions within an organization. Targets are set, deviations are noticed, and a response is formed to redirect these deviations toward its goals. Identify the sensors in the organization, how information is shared or not, and how responsive are the systems to reduce deviations. How are targets defined, what assessment processes are in place, how is data gathered, how is it analyzed. In business enterprises, most change initiatives are in service of stabilization functions in the organizations. If that is the case then assessing the adequacy of the sensors, adequacy of the information flow, the capacity to adjust to the information received. Output is registered as input and processed in terms of the original targets [need diagram of negative feedback process] [governor in a steam engine] [Use parachuting cats story for discussing feedback mechanisms]
If the self-stabilzing capacity of a system, allows it to maintain themselves in a changing environment, then the self creative capacity allows it to adapt itself to this environment, resulting in the emergence of new forms and structures. Human development is one example. As is Evolution. Application: In applying the self-creating lens, one looks for the capacity for innovation, growth, new goals, and purposes to emerge. One looks for new structures and forms to emerge. For companies to survive they certainly do need to adapt themselves to changing environment. Before 9/11, the CIA and the FBI were notorious for trying to maintain themselves as distinct agencies with distinct identities and agendas. But in this post 9/11 era these agencies have had to adapt, to recreate themselves, and developing new structures that focus more on sharing information and collaboration. As inquiry: How do you respond to anomalies and stimuli from your environment? Do you seek to reduce the deviation or to allow the deviation to amplify in order for new structures emerge? In parachuting cats story what are the positive feedback loops What are the capacities of a system to recreate itself, to adapt to new stimuli, changes in its environment. Evolution
Systems are embedded in larger levels of complexity and themselves are made up of smaller systems. Person, group, organization, community is one example of how systems are nested in one another. When we speak of hierarchy we speak of levels of complexity not necessarily levels of rank or worth, or authority. This is about context. Application: What are the various systems involved and how do they interface? How do these systems influence each other? By recognizing that certain dynamics within a system such as a group or a department may belong to the next larger and/or lower system level. In a culturally diverse team, certain societal values and patterns are likely to influence the patterns of interaction among the members, and these get imported through individuals. By recognizing the ways in which this larger system level influences the group, can help in more effective ways of relating. I have taught communication skills to groups for some time. Often times communication patterns are identified as problematic yet, no amount of skill training is going to change deeply held beliefs and behaviors regarding cultural differences. It is the larger cultural and political context in which this group lives that is more likely than not to inform how people communicate. So a recognition of this cultural context is key to addressing the dynamics among the group members. How do difference system levels interface? For example, are problems belonging to larger system level trying to be solved at the wrong level? How are the larger levels influencing a given system? Higher levels constrain lower levels. Negative feedback and positive feedback occur at different levels
Living systems are purposeful. The have a reason to be. It is this purposefulness that gives the system its identity. Purposes are usually multiple and known retrospectively. Organizations are formed for particular purposes, as reflected in a stated mission, this is the blueprint that informs the development of the system, and how it is organizes. Unlike a mechanical system, a living system manifest this purpose with some flexibility. For example, a human embryo contains information that results in a human being, with certain innate characteristics. But we know full well that there is some play within the system that allows it to evolve in adaptive ways. Purpose is evolving in a system and is a property of the system and cannot be fully comprehended by one part alone. By purpose I do not mean conscious purpose. The purposefulness of a system delimits the boundary of a system. The boundary of a system is not a material event. What makes this aggregate of people part of one team and the another aggregate part of another is not anything physical rather it is the “reason to be” that determines the boundary of the system. For example, the same group of people can be configure and reconfigure as two different systems. The difference lies in the reason to aggregate in one group versus the other. Out of this purpose comes the organization.
In this paper/presentation, I have argued for the need for developing systemic consciousness in leadership. While systemic consciousness is not a new development in humans, what is new is the re-introduction of this consciousness in the industrialized world of the 21 st century. Systems theory offers a variety of constructs when applied illuminate features of the landscape that many other theories obscure, and promote the development of systemic consciousness, resulting in more a skillful and effective leadership practice
Systems theory offers a variety of constructs when applied illuminate features of the landscape that many other theories obscure, and promote the development of systemic consciousness, resulting in more a skillful and effective leadership practice. I have chosen five very simple, constructs that I share with students who are very new to systems theory. My intentions is to whet the appetite and to initiate a on-going learning process to deepen the understanding of ST and the development of this consciousness.
Intro To Systems Theory And Leadership
Global Context for 21st Century Leadership Master of Arts in Leadership Saint Mary’s College of California October 25, 2009
Systems theory is a contemporary telling of an ancient and perennial story about the world as alive, dynamic and interrelated. <ul><li>Indigenous world-view both ancient and contemporary. </li></ul><ul><li>Pre-modern Europe. </li></ul><ul><li>Counter-culture Movements </li></ul><ul><li>Romantic, Utopian, Arts and Crafts. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Now I a fourfold vision see, </li></ul><ul><li>And a fourfold vision is given to me; </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Tis fourfold in my supreme delight </li></ul><ul><li>And threefold in soft Beulah’s night </li></ul><ul><li>And twofold always. May God us keep </li></ul><ul><li>From Single vision & Newton’s Sleep. </li></ul><ul><li>~William Blake 1802 </li></ul>
New and alternative paradigms of knowledge developed during the 20 th Century. <ul><li>New discoveries in the sciences </li></ul><ul><li>Technological advances in telecommunication, computers, space exploration </li></ul><ul><li>New developments in philosophy and psychology </li></ul><ul><li>Introduction of eastern religions </li></ul>
Systems Theory emerged in response to the need to make sense of organized complexity in their natural contexts. <ul><ul><ul><li>Draws from concepts and metaphors of the life sciences. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>When applied to complex social systems fosters understanding in terms of: </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Wholeness </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Relationships </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Pattern </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Processes </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Context </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>
Systems theory emerged as a scientific framework following the World War II <ul><li>Ludwig Van Bertalanffy </li></ul><ul><li>“ General Systems Theory” </li></ul><ul><li>Norbert Wiener </li></ul><ul><li>“ Cybernetics” </li></ul><ul><li>Gregory Bateson </li></ul><ul><li>“ Steps to Ecology of Mind” </li></ul>
Influenced many academic disciplines, such as: <ul><ul><li>Biology </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sociology </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Economics </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Organizational Theory </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Management Sciences </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>And more. </li></ul></ul>
“ Lack of systemic wisdom is always punished” ~Gregory Bateson
Recently, Systems Theory has made inroads in leadership studies and practice. <ul><li>Wilfred Drath ~ “The Deep Blue Sea” </li></ul><ul><li>Peter Senge ~ “The Fifth Discipline” </li></ul><ul><li>Margaret Wheatley ~ “Leadership and the New Sciences” </li></ul><ul><li>Nathan Harter ~ “Clearings in the Forest” </li></ul>
<ul><li>All promote Systems Theory as a generative map for the kind of territory within which leadership practitioners live and act. </li></ul>
Map and Territory <ul><li>What kind of map is systems theory? </li></ul><ul><li>What value does it have for the practice of leadership? </li></ul>
Map/Territory--Theory/Phenomena Maps will render territory in very particular ways, obscuring some things while illuminating others.
What is the territory of Leadership in the 21st Century?
The Leadership Dynamic <ul><li>Relationships </li></ul><ul><li>Complex social organizations </li></ul><ul><li>Dynamic change </li></ul><ul><li>Mutuality </li></ul><ul><li>Purposeful </li></ul>
“ Leaders are part of a dynamic rather than being the dynamic itself. Leaders are one element of an interactive network that is far bigger than they.” (Marion and Uhl-Bien, 2001, p. 26).
21st Century context of leadership ~ interdependent and turbulent world. <ul><li>Globalization. </li></ul><ul><li>Continual and technological change. </li></ul><ul><li>Social and cultural upheaval and change. </li></ul><ul><li>Rapid rates of ecological decline. </li></ul><ul><li>Exponential knowledge gain. </li></ul>
Systems Theory as a Generative Map <ul><ul><ul><li>Orients us toward relationships, wholeness, pattern, complexity, change, interconnections, contexts, process, emergence, etc. </li></ul></ul></ul>
<ul><ul><ul><li>Necessary in the dynamic, pluralistic, and interdependent world of the 21 st century. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Leadership within a systems view becomes a way of engaging and participating in the living world in service of its health and well-being. </li></ul></ul></ul>
A Living Systems View <ul><li>Relocate human existence from outside to inside the living world. </li></ul><ul><li>Recognize social organizations as living systems embedded in a multiple contexts, which are dynamic, complex, and emergent. </li></ul>
Five Characteristics of Living Systems <ul><li>Provides lenses through which to view organizational life. </li></ul><ul><li>Reveals new patterns. </li></ul><ul><li>Initiates inquiry leading to deepened understanding and more skillful actions. </li></ul>
Five Characteristics of Living Systems <ul><li>Organized wholes </li></ul><ul><li>Self-stabilizing </li></ul><ul><li>Self-creating </li></ul><ul><li>Nested Hierarchically </li></ul><ul><li>Purposeful </li></ul>
Organized Whole <ul><li>The difference between: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>a heap and a whole; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a collection of people and a family, an organization, or a community; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a bunch of trees and a forest. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Organization </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>An arrangement of relations whose property derive from interaction among the component parts. </li></ul></ul>
Self-Stabilizing <ul><li>Maintenance in response to changes in the environment. </li></ul><ul><li>Negative feedback </li></ul><ul><li>Homeostasis </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Thermostat </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Maintaining blood temperature </li></ul></ul>
Self-creating <ul><li>The capacity for innovation and creativity in response to environmental stimuli. </li></ul><ul><li>Positive Feedback--reinforcing vs. balancing </li></ul><ul><li>Emergence </li></ul><ul><li>Adaptation </li></ul>
Nested Hierarchically <ul><li>Means “Sacred Governance.” </li></ul><ul><li>Levels of complexity not of rank or worth </li></ul><ul><li>Systems within Systems </li></ul><ul><li>Context </li></ul>
Purposeful <ul><li>A systems “reason to be.” </li></ul><ul><li>Defines both identity and boundary </li></ul><ul><li>Property of the system </li></ul><ul><li>The “blueprint” </li></ul><ul><li>Mechanical versus living </li></ul>
Leadership in the 21st Century <ul><li>Requires a new consciousness a way of viewing and thinking about the world as relational, dynamic and interdependent. </li></ul>
<ul><li>By applying this map to organizational life and leadership it fosters understanding leading to more constructive activity in service of its purpose. </li></ul>