How to make better decisions.
The integration of Systems Thinking is one of the most important experiences I have had from an intellectual point of view. Yet, it is simultaneously a knowledge with a modest claim to immediate application. Systems analysis deals with complexity, circular relationships and interrelated systems. It is, therefore, in the overall vision it provides us with that its true value lies.
To put an understandable simile, let's imagine a person who, for an extended period of time, lives as an expatriate for work, university or any other reason. Undoubtedly, the experience of a new country, a new city, a new language, and a new culture significantly impacts the mental model of their way of understanding life (Adam, Obodaru, Lu, Maddux, & Galinsky, 2018).
Los modelos mentales y el pensamiento sistémico
Mental models represent a person's view of the world, including explicit and implicit understanding. Mental models are the context in which to view and interpret new material, and they determine what stored information is relevant in a given situation (Klein, 2017). From that experience, that person, upon return, will find a whole set of things that are suddenly meaningless; on the contrary, others suddenly acquire a hitherto non-existent importance.
If by usefulness we mean immediate and direct applicability, we are not dealing with a "practical" discipline. If, on the other hand, we can perceive the extraordinary importance of making better decisions in everyday life, we will also be able to appreciate its contribution. In the words of Jay Weiss, Vice President of Sagebrush Wireless Holdings, "Systems Thinking is a precious tool for understanding complex business environments and developing the sometimes unconventional practices that can propel businesses forward."
Systemic Thinking modifies our mental model, the way we interpret reality and, ultimately, our subsequent decisions and how we face situations. We could undoubtedly talk about many aspects that have to do with this new mental model. I want to highlight what, in my opinion, are the three main ones.
The three reasons to adopt systems thinking
The mental model: Linearity versus circularity.
The main contribution of Systems Theory is undoubtedly its treatment of circularity, the interrelationships between the various elements that make up a system, and the global vision necessary to understand the functioning of sets and their dynamics. This vision of reality, this vision of the world, allows us to face certain decisions with sufficient caution so as not to make mistakes derived from an excess of simplicity. The fact that there may be dominant cause-effect relationships should not make us forget the importance of considering the nuances.
The mental attitude: Absolute versus relative.
As a logical consequence of complexity, we are faced with the certainty that there are no absolute optimal decisions, no perfect analyses, and total foresight is impossible. In short, we cannot expect or pretend to have full security. The result is flexibility in our judgements, permissiveness towards other mental models, openness and acceptance of diversity. The impact that such a mental attitude can have on our ability to generate new options, solve problems, and adapt to accept new approaches.
The mental perspective: Behaviour over time (BOT).
Derived from Systems Theory, System Dynamics allows us to understand the behaviour of systems over time. Understanding feedback loops, delays or the importance of information, to name three easily understandable aspects, will enable us to speculate on the probabilistic behaviour of human organisations. Often, things are explained not so much by what they are but by how they have come to be. Similarly, realities can be changed through small incremental changes (adaptations), sometimes more sustainable than significant revolutions.
At the same time, our decisions should be more related to the expectations of the evolution of situations than to the specific characteristics of the moment the decision takes. They are more "tempered" decisions, more flexible, and more focused on adapting to new circumstances than on the moment's needs.
In a changing environment, the main activity of a leader is decision-making. To make the right decisions, the most desirable skill is sound judgment. The best judgement is that which has a broad perspective. And this, in the end, can only be obtained with a systemic vision.
Applied to the managers of agile and collaborative teams should never lose the perspective of the whole or the evolution of the interrelationships of its members inside and outside the team.
How many people, while keeping their skills intact, react differently in one team than in another? Only from a systemic perspective can we add good judgment to the process and achieve team results.
Learning and adapting in a changing world is not only about initiative and tolerance for error. It is also about the likelihood of getting it right, which, among other things, depends on the systemic view.
- Adam, H., Obodaru, O., Lu, J. G., Maddux, W. W., & Galinsky, A. D. (2018). The shortest path to oneself leads around the world: Living abroad increases self-concept clarity. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 145, 16–29. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.OBHDP.2018.01.002
- Kim, Daniel. H. (2017). The Link between Individual and Organizational Learning. En David. A. Klein, The Strategic Management of Intellectual Capital. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780080517926 (Amazon)
- Zamora Enciso, R. (2010). Competencias Socio-Emocionales: Su Desarrollo a Través del Juego y la Simulación. Barcelona: Lulu.com (Amazon)