Updated: Jun 16, 2021
Systems Thinking has gained great popularity in recent years. System Thinking refers to the ability to think about solutions in the context of the whole, rather than in separate parts. While most people like the concept of Systems Thinking, I rarely see it brought into practical use.
How can we apply systems thinking in our everyday lives?
One of the problems with Systems Thinking is that most people apply it only when solving a defined problem. There are huge benefits to be gained from building the Systems Thinking muscle in small, everyday problems.
Never fix a one-off problem. When you solve a problem as a one-off, figure out what principle you applied and know this when similar problems crop up. Alternatively, never solve a one-off problem in the first place without fixing the system.
For example, you have a conflict between 2 important meetings. You choose one and send a delegate to the other. How did you decide that? Is it because your boss is in one meeting? Is it because one meeting affects your bonus more than the other? Instead of getting stressed out every time you have a meeting conflict and treating it like a one-off, start writing down some principles on how you decide. Next time you have a meeting conflict, you can calmly apply your principles.
I was recently in a training where we spent 20 minutes getting the chairs set up correctly. That’s awesome, now what’s gonna happen tomorrow? Are we going to have to go through this 20-minute exercise again? Nope, because I marked the floor with tape. Someone joking called me OCD, and I laughed because it’s the exact opposite of OCD, it’s more like “I never want to think about these chairs again.” I built a simple system so no one ever has to think about the chairs again.
You are a system. I coach leaders to build a system of delivery, not simply direct work. What system are you building yourself into? To me, this is similar to the difference between discipline and inspiration. There are tons of management, self-help and even diet books out there about setting goals, managing your time and being overall really on top of things. They never stick because you’re doing it but you’re not loving it.
I have personally never stuck with an exercise program because although I might not hate it, I have never found one that I truly love. I hear that runners get addicted to the runner’s high, this is probably akin to a systemic change. I wish I had that addiction! My dentist implored me for years to floss daily. When I finally got attuned and enjoy the way my teeth feel after flossing, I stopped having to remember to floss because I wanted to do it!
I’ve had friends ask me how I have time to read so much. I don’t need to have time! I read topics I’m interested in and I love to read. I recently saw an article about how much smarter you will be if you read only 20 minutes per day. If you are torturing yourself for 20 minutes, it’s not worth it! Find something you are curious about and read that. Don’t feel compelled to finish it.
How are you building the system of "you"? What things do you want to enjoy more? Find ways to apply Systems Thinking.
People as Systems. When you have friction with another person, can you apply Systems Thinking? Usually, when we don’t get along with someone, we either try to work it out with them or avoid them. Do you typically consider how this relationship fits into a pattern of disharmony?
I recently had trouble with a co-worker. While resolving the issue at hand, I searched my memory for other people that I had this same reaction to. What did they have in common? What were we triggering in each other? What could I do in order to smooth future relationships where this pattern crops up? In my case, the trigger is helplessness. When people appear helpless I lose all patience. What helped me in this case, was to implement David Marquet’s level up model, most notably, asking the person “what do you intend to do?” This has the effect of pulling them out of their helplessness, creating a win for them and tamping down the trigger for me. I might also outwardly state “I’m perceiving you as helpless on this issue. How can I help you get back in the driver's seat?” That’s going to ruffle some feathers, but let’s face it, feathers will be ruffled anyway.
How do you build systems in your life? We'd love to hear!