Making the World Work Better: Q&A with authors and editor discussion

Making the World Work Better: The Ideas That Shaped a Century and a Company
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Making the World Work Better > System thinking - can it be taught?

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message 1: by Betsy (new) - added it

Betsy Schaefer | 12 comments Mod
Many of the individuals interviewed in this chapter
consider themselves “systems thinkers.” They
recognize patterns among seemingly disparate
situations and follow the seeing, mapping,
understanding, believing and acting path
repeatedly. They enjoy the thrill of mastering a
complex problem. Can systems thinking be
taught? What tools or technologies might help?

message 2: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey O'Brien | 3 comments In some ways, the very point of my essay -- as well as the THINK exhibit that I helped create: -- is to demonstrate how to get better at systems thinking. The Seeing, Mapping, Understanding, Believing, Acting (or Smuba) approach is my attempt to distill systems thinking into a series of five common stages, and provide a common pathway to follow.

Of course this is not a how-to manual. No one will finish the book armed with the education or aptitude necessary to tackle a complex system. But I'm hoping a few readers, at least, may close the final page feeling inspired to learn more, or with the confidence to try new things and a resolution that all is not hopeless (or to at least feel good that so many brilliant people are hard at work). I found it heartening to know that great world-changers past and present follow(ed) a common approach. I spent a lot of time at IBM R&D facilities talking to researchers about how systems thinking is fostered inside the company, regardless of whether the scientists were working on photovoltaics or advanced battery technologies or new forms of medicine. I also interviewed many people at systems meccas like MIT and the Santa Fe Institute. I can assure you that there's an unshakeable belief at such places that systems thinking CAN be taught and that in a massively inter-connected world, it may turn out that thinking horizontally is more important than vertically. By taking a more holistic approach to systemic problems, we'll be able to identify and solve problems that are common regardless of the type of system.

All that said, this is incredibly complex, heady stuff. And while technology can help, computers aren't going to do much by themselves. A lot of the people I talked to lamented the state of education and the lack of interest in younger generations. I'm an optimist. I think that, again, our schools and sociological trends are both elements of complex systems that can be better understood and manipulated -- so that fixing what ails us becomes more important and more rewarded than getting the latest and greatest cell phone. That's certainly my hope.

I'd love to hear what others think.

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