Why is system thinking not readily accepted?

I recently posted a comment on the Linked In Systems Thinking World group site. The comment was in response to the question: “If System Thinking is such a good method (especially for solving poorly defined problems), why it is not that widespread?”

The reason I felt I could contribute to that discussion was how clearly the concepts in LIARS! Vol. 1 and 2 clear up issues raised by others in the discussion. Here is a slightly modified and annotated version of what I said:

A few people have mentioned Myers Briggs and how personality differences might EXPLAIN the resistance system thinkers observe to applying system thinking to modern problems. I agree with this if we restrict the meaning of the word “explain” to categorizing WHO is likely to be creating what type of resistance. But it’s important to stress that categorization is neither a psychological explanation of why people do it, nor a justification for doing it. I think a phrase in a previous post really gets to the issue, ” We often seem to prefer doing something clearly wrong… instead of attempting to do something clearly better.” Another post adds, ” The Myers-Briggs method is typical of how methods and people aim ‘to apply concreteness’ by completely missing the point.”  I’d rephrase that as follows: …how methods and people aim to apply culturally accepted practices, even though they completely and repeatedly miss the point.

Another post stated, ” the dynamics of a group… will often determine an approach… people settle into their comfort zone.”  I think the word “hide” is more fitting than settle. The problem with blaming group dynamics is the same as above: often choosing wrong over known better approaches for emotional rather than broadly objective reasons. Another post followed with a relevant insight, ” I prefer difference …difference is good …difference leads to challenge.” The insight for me is seeing another way people try to answer the primary question. I interpret this statement, not as explaining the psychology of resistance, but as summarizing HOW power and decisions are manipulated by individuals, and how outcomes for events are simplified by a group of people unwilling to exert the effort to understand the complexity of what really happened. These approaches are both valuable for spreading system thinking, but a different approach to the original question.

Here’s how I would answer the topic question ( i.e. why is system thinking not more widespread?).

Human society keeps failing to acknowledge human evolution and the state humans have finally reached.  Most humans still think with a brain that was fine tuned a million years ago for survival on the savannah as hunter gatherers.  The primary driver of human behavior is still fear. For most people, language is learned as single phrases ( we call them sound bites ). These are driven mostly by emotion. For example, children can recite long poems, or sing long songs, years before they know the meaning of the words in those poems and songs. For mental stability, the process of becoming an adult in our culture, only requires logic to be consistent WITHIN those phrases.  I call this SINGLE SENTENCE LOGIC.

The tragedy this brings for systems thinking is that those people, whose mental construct of the world is composed only of fragments, are FUNDAMENTALLY unable to envision logic across a large number of logical elements. That is, they are psychologically UNABLE to form a broad vision of a system. And I claim this inability, for those who have it, is as profound as trying to describe color to a blind person or tones to a deaf person. We are essentially trying to sell climate controlled, WiFi shopping malls to people who are secure living in mud houses.

I’m sure this sounds extreme to a lot of readers. So here’s my challenge: TEST IT! When you get into the next situation where a systems approach should be considered, look for power and fear as drivers of discussions. Throw out a few complex, but limited, situations as challenges and see how many people understand what you are trying to tell them? Look for single sentence logic ( like cut the deficit, raise taxes ) rather than the presentation of a time phased table of a hundred interacting factors showing how they achieve the goal. If my simplifying ideas help explain what you are seeing, check the main A3society.org website for a much larger discussion and read my books.

About Nanook

I am the "REAL" Nanook. I wrote the book LIARS! It presents the philosophy behind most of the posts on this blog. Look for information about it at http://A3society.org
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