Monday, 17 May 2010

Systems thinking

A possible reason for IT systems failing, suggests Neil McBride in Computing, is that people don't take a holistic approach to thinking about an organisation. He argues here that thinking systemically
"involves taking into account the complex social mechanisms, the dense networks of interactions, the dangerous and unknown emergent effects. It involves being open to changing one’s way of thinking, listening before advising, being adaptable."
Indeed, it does, but as a reply on the article comments, schools teach reductionism. Reducing complex situations to simple models makes it easier for us to get our heads round the messes, which may be why such models are taught in universities, and especially on MBAs. But when you try to bring in systems thinking, few people know what you're on about, and some people explicitly discard it. Even my supervisor expressed dislike of systems theory.

So how can you bring in systems thinking without explicitly sharing the theory?


lizit said...

Different area from you, but I am also interested in systems and complexity - in my case looking at the autistic spectrum domain. I am using metaphors like maze, jungle, snakes and ladders, but I am also wondering whether I might risk asking participants to draw how they see the domain - I may not get rich pictures of a Checkland variety, but it could be interesting.
Sometimes there is a place for simplicity, but not as an alternative to recognising the complexity.
I'm getting mixed up with people, processes, roles, frameworks, but hopefully may find something at the end which conveys the complexity in a way which communicates.
No answers, but I think it's worth the effort of trying :-)

eLizH said...

For data collection, I didn't get my participants to draw, though for analysis, I drew pictures as I read the interview transcripts. In the transcripts I found metaphors, and they were metaphors of a journey, or of production of a car.

I also followed Checkland's work in that I created codes for process, structure, queries, facts and climate, and looked for those in the interview transcripts. The oddest thing I've recently realised from the transcripts is the representation system that particular participants use. People have a preferred metaphor type. They use metaphors of vision OR of sound. For example, a consultant CEO kept talking about the ‘vision’ somebody’s ‘painted’, keeping ‘an eagle eye’ and seeing whereas his project manager talked of 'the tone’, of ‘deadly silence’ or of someone being a 'sounding board'. Those sorts of metaphors made drawing pictures easier.

The more I look, the more I find. Now I have to synthesis but without explicitly using systems, though I see systems in context, people, and interaction. Changing context doesn’t necessarily change interactions, but some contexts afford interaction better than others. Change the people and you get different interactions.