When you realise a situation is not as simple as it seems to be.
There is more to Systems Thinking than meets the eye!
Peter Senge, who popularized learning organizations in his book The Fifth Discipline (extracted from HBR), described them as places “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.” To achieve these ends, Senge suggested the use of five “component technologies”: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning.HBR
Incredible Tools for Unlocking The Secret To Understanding & Learning To
Work With Our Realities
A METAPHOR FOR UNDERSTANDING THE PRACTICE OF
THE FIVE DISCIPLINES
The reality we live in today is the consequence of the pictures we envisioned to the question “what do we care to create” in our past. This happens whether we are intentional or not. As the pictures unfold, we realise our reality today. The more we had made peace in seeing the inter-relatedness of our visions at the time we had created them, the less tumultuous our realities would be today.
When persons in the organization did not share in the process of building their vision, we experience a degree of tumultuousness that is simply a sign of systemic issues or vicious (or circular) causalities that we ignored but is nevertheless playing themselves out today. Over time, such issues become persistent and therefore increasingly difficult to resolve. Given the ubiquitous and hidden nature of systemic issues, and without the requisite discipline to “see and uncover them”, it would not be as easy to recognize “the underlying structures”, learn to turn them around, and resolve their vicious or persistent natures. For our tomorrow.
The bottom line is we can’t resolve the persistence or recurrence of a problem until we understand the persistence of its cause (like the ‘uncle’ (the subject of discussions in Modules 1 and 2) did). And so, the secret to solving a problem is to first unlock the ‘secret’ to understand our realities. With the advances we have made here with strategy and management development, learning organizations are, indeed becoming the spaces for us to achieve just that for us. To achieve these ends, Senge suggested the use of five “component technologies”: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning.
The first step to learning is therefore learning to spot systemic or persistent issues.
HOW DO YOU SPOT SYSTEMIC ISSUES AND / OR PERSISTENT ISSUES?
The laws of dynamic complexity are designed for that purpose. If you spot these conversations in everyday conversations in meetings or around the organization, these point to the existence of such issues. The first step for someone to have them in conversations is, of course, to understand the laws governing the dynamic complexities themselves. The education system that most of us grew up in, however, has skilled us in managing detailed complexities, learning to come close to the tree, and noticing the details on the bark. However, systemic issues operate in the space when we distance ourselves from the trees to see the forest. Subjects such as Mathematics, biology, physics, and chemistry prepare us to make sense of the big picture. When we have a good grasp of the laws of dynamic complexity we become better at seeing the forest for the trees and recognize the systemic issues much better.
Here are the laws of dynamic complexity and showcase of their existence.
Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions.
It would be easy to blame the leaders for seemingly not wanting to help us “make things happen” and dealing with worsening situations. Employment. Family and relationships. Affordable housing. Health. Wealth. Crime, corruption and violence-free living. World peace in our minds or otherwise. It will, of course, be harder to blame ourselves for not seeing the vicious natures of the causalities that keep us from achieving what we want to see happen. However, when we do so, we begin to realize unless we are learning in this together and leading the leaders, leaders are off by themselves typically helpless in figuring systemic issues out.
There is no blame.
As such, the result is leaders choose to resort to manipulating others, using the media, social platforms like soap dramas, taking valuable time off to strike personal and political alliances, striking terror intentional or otherwise, creating conflicts, engaging authority, judiciary systems, seeking government funding, spending and so on. Just everyday things we do today and take such actions for granted as being meaningful.
The harder we push, the harder the system pushes back.
You may have the leaders believe, they are in charge of dispensing national resources and making things happen, but, they are not in charge of understanding these issues. Unfortunately, as the case may be, we too did not put them there, because we knew they could understand and resolve them. We did so because they made it easier for us ‘to pull strings’ on them to get whatever we want. Whenever. Everyone seems oblivious that we are choosing to play “who is on the top” game. “Me First” or “This Takes Too Long” or “This is too hard for me or impossible for my enemy” are all products of that same play.
The easy way out, leads us back in.
The bottom-line still is, effective resolutions will happen when we learn together about our realities and the “system” of how things are actually happening. But that is hard. This is where, in my view, the democratic process is, still flawed.
The behaviour grows better before it gets worse.
And so, till that happens most of us are or have become good at controlling but not resolving them. However, we pay a price for that happening. It will cost us. As long as they stay unresolved, these systemic issues will continue to drain our resources.
The cure can be worse than the disease.
SYSTEMIC ISSUES TAKE ON THE FORCE AS THAT OF “HURRICANES”
Hurricanes in real life have powerful and destructive forces. Since they occur in a short space of time of one to two days, most of us are not prepared for the strength of the surge that they unleash.
Systemic problems have the same levels of intensity as these thunderstorms. Take note of the amount of resources we as a globe have spent so far just to fight concerns of crime, health and wars:
Mass incarceration doesn’t do much to fight crime. But it costs an absurd $182 billion a year.
We could eliminate tuition at every public college and university in America with the $80 billion we spend each year on incarcerations – Obama
Source: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/1/27/14388024/mass-incarceration-cost (Retrieved on May 27. 2018)
Source: Norton, R. Graham F. and Ken C. (2004). What does the world spend on Criminal Justice? http://www.heuni.fi/material/attachments/heuni/papers/6KtlkZMtL/ HEUNI_papers_20.pdf (Retrieved on May 27. 2018)
Global spending on health is expected to increase from US$7·83 trillion in 2013 to $18·28 (uncertainty interval 14·42–22·24) trillion in 2040 (in 2010 purchasing power parity-adjusted dollars).
We expect per-capita health spending to increase annually by 2·7% (1·9–3·4) in high-income countries, 3·4% (2·4–4·2) in upper-middle-income countries, 3·0% (2·3–3·6) in lower-middle-income countries, and 2·4% (1·6–3·1) in low-income countries.
Source: http://www.healthdata.org/data-visualization/financing-global-health (Retrieved on May 27. 2018)
Source: Joseph L D, PhD. (2016). National Spending on Health by source for 184 countries between 2013 and 2040 https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/ article/PIIS0140-6736(16)30167-2/abstract (Retrieved on May 27. 2018)
ON THE MILITARY:
U.S. Military Spending vs. the World
The U.S. outpaces all other nations in military expenditures. World military spending totalled more than $1.6 trillion in 2015. The U.S. accounted for 37 percent of the total.
U.S. military expenditures are roughly the size of the next seven largest military budgets around the world, combined.
U.S. military spending dwarfs the budget of the #2 country – China. For every dollar China spends on its military, the U.S. spends $2.77.
Source: https://www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/us-military-spending-vs-world/ (Retrieved on May 27. 2018)
These numbers are not small. They are severe and serious. Just as they would compare with intensities of real-life superstorms and hurricanes. We do not notice them because, they build up over long periods of time and so their magnitude is not as apparent as the whiplashing effects and strengths of real-life hurricanes.
However, that does not mean they are no less intense in their effects. Here is a whopping $ 2,000 (or Botswana Pula 20,000) governments spend annually on each citizen of the globe to administer just those three areas. This is before including other significant areas of public spending such as education, social welfare benefits, subsidies, salaries, and infrastructure development (which could mean up to 200,000 pula annually per global citizen). Multiply that with decades of administering them. That is 15,000,000 pula governments spend on EACH GLOBAL CITIZEN in their lifetime when governments provide services.
Now, question is … If these are the amounts governments have spent globally to fight crime, healthcare and wars, and so on, how much change or a dent have these expenditures caused in turning these issues around? 5%? 50%? 100%? Would you know? Should you know?
Faster is Slower.
OUR GROWING NUMBNESS TO THEIR PRESENCE
If there is a fire happening right now, your adrenaline kicks in and helps you react. You may take off on a flight or stand back and fight quickly to put the fire out before it spreads. Most of our internal capacity for recognizing and picking up threats to our survival is geared to sudden changes to our environment, not slow gradual ones.
Our minds are locked in one frequency, it is as if we can only see 70 km/h, we can’t see anything at 30 km/h. (p. 23)
When you plot Gantt charts to roll programmes out, the time taken to implement it may be clear to you. However, the time required for the programme to effect the change is often lesser so. And so, we do not understand why our best efforts to manage change fail dismally.
That is because you are not cognizant of the reason and the pace that first brought about the state you are in today that you are managing to change. When things were taking their time, you did not think something was happening and become numb to their presence (the boiled frog syndrome) letting things creep up on you, thinking they would never happen and yet preparing to react when the changes present a crisis. You would then either attempt to fight the crisis, manage the change or give up and abandon the project altogether when nothing happens by the time you expect the change. That is the true nature of systemic issues. Our reactions to it, is more mechanistic than it should be the case.
Learning to slow down your frantic pace and paying attention to both the subtle (trees) as well as the dramatic (forest) is a first step in recognizing and working with the real pace of change of these issues.
WHAT DO STUBBORN OR SYSTEMIC ISSUES LOOK LIKE?
They are just that. Stubborn or as we would say politely, persistent.
Their typical nature is:
- Global, regional or national in their effect on citizens and the lands, such as low agriculture output, crime, productivity, unemployment, poverty, infections, droughts, inflation, stifled wage increases, rising budget deficits, debts, floods, pollution, and so on. The incriminators across the globe may differ but the impact they create does not.
- Continues to exist despite ongoing efforts to manage it. Think crime. For as long as we know. states across the globe have spent resources amounting to billions and trillions of dollars on the economy to equip and build policing and rehabilitation organizations to fight crime. Or think HIV infections. Think how many personnel and medication have we replaced and changed to fight it? Have these rates decreased despite the attention and budget we had allocated to them or do they persist or appear to decline but assume new forms? Of course, we are relieved they did not get worse. However, if they have resisted our efforts to change their course, i.e. to decline commensurate with resources that incline, then we have a persistent issue in our hands.
And so a problem or issue is systemic when:
- Different persons report the same concern in different locations, and at different times over different periods of time e.g. crime, unemployment, divorces, HIV/AIDs, drought, conflicts, corruptions, violent behaviour between couples, and so on. The perpetrators, victims and circumstances, may differ but the problem and their impact does not change significantly spatially or temporally. Most times governments in their enthusiasm to ‘serve the people’ set up service centres to receive and file such complaints and to dole assistance out, would be able to see this is happening, provided they would lift their heads up from biting the sand (dealing with the files) long enough to observe these prevalences;
- Institutions set up by governments and funds set aside by the planning functions specifically targeted to deal with the problem, yet should you however, add up the resources applied cumulatively over the years since their inception and find the results do not commensurate (e.g. decline) with the incline of resources applied, and you are forced to keep chasing for the money to deal with them, then that is a sign you have a problem in your hand that persists and is systemic.
You can have your cake and eat it too but not at once.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “SOLVE A PROBLEM”?
So what does it mean to solve a problem? Click here for more.
Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space.
SO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? HOW WOULD YOU TREAT THEM?
With the advances we have made here with strategy and management development, will allow us to do so. Finally.
These series of blogs and pages are a way to help me put out there the hope we would learn to see and understand these vicious structures that work at eroding:
- Our relationships with each other (as individuals, families, organizations and communities, with each other),
- Our relationships with nature (health, environment, agriculture, animal and wildlife),
- Our relationships with ourselves particularly in developing the verve and tenacity to grow as nations (relations with ourselves and the economies/infrastructure/ technology we create to aid our existence on this earth) and,
- Our relationships with the rest of the world (seeing growth happen systemically).
It is in learning to turn these vicious (or negative) circles of causality around to positive natures that bear the fruit of hope in turning our realities around for us.
Small changes can produce big results, but
the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious.
A true mark of a leader is one who develops such a capacity not just for himself but also others and that forms the core work that happens within Learning Organizations, Communities, Nations, Region and the World. Universe? Perhaps so.
Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants.
Love to hear your reactions and comments here.
Hi Sheila, as I am reading your blog, I am reminded of a stubborn problem in hospitals – patient falls! Despite all out efforts to solve them, they just stick around! Patients, especially the elderly ones, tend to want to move on their own and in the process sometimes, they their gait snd fall. With each soln we try, we resolve some bits of it but it never totally goes away! I look forward to gaining insights on how we can use the concept of cyclone to view the problem and get another crack at solving the problem! Shalom!
My it has been a while to hear from each other and it is so lovely to see you here. How are you?
I am going to become a little investigative – kind of poking my nose around. Will that be ok for you?
What kinds of solutions, did you say, have we tried?
Did they fall on their own or did something cause the fall? What did the elderly persons say were their reasons? Were they not to have been moving on their own?
well i just found your blog and I am so amazed at it. I was searching for this statement someone said, leading public in US, saying” to not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s.” I thought there is something wrong about that statement… Yesterdays problems was caused by today’s solutions…lol anyway, I enjoy reading the blog on today’s problems come from yesterdays solutions… so in away it is just goes round and round
Thank you for saying you had been amazed by the blog. That is kind of you. Yes, that law is one of my favourite ones in this work. We fix and when when do not treat what we had fixed as part of the whole, the fix to that part comes back to haunt us as a whole.
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