Systems Thinking — A Few Key Shifts in Emphasis, Part 1

Photo Credit, Margaret Wheatley

For many years, many of us have been learning to see and work with systems as groups. Many of us have been learning, or re-learning, systems thinking. Many of us have been challenging ourselves to an imagination of seeing more of the whole. Many of us have been wrestling our ways through interrupting deeply engrained societal and organizational patterns of dissect, divide, predict, command, and control.

Oy! That’s quite a sentence, these interruptions that so many of us support — no wonder it can be a bit tiring.

Lately, I’ve been revisiting some materials I have that help make some basic yet clear points of differentiation in systems thinking. These are all about shifts in emphasis that help stir us into, what I would suggest is more fruitful ways of thinking and practicing. I’m grateful to Meg Wheatley and Myron Rogers for feeding and developing such thought.

  1. From Parts to Whole — Yup, this is the basic point. Can we come to see the team (or the organization, or community, or family) as an entity itself. I’m particularly grateful for learning The Circle Way over the years with this emphasis. So many times I’ve felt that when we begin to speak into a center, depositing our insight and wonder, we are forming not just a collection of parts, but an entity in which “parts” begin to make less sense. We seem to source from something more than any of us as individuals.
  2. From Objects to Relationships — I love this emphasis because it moves us away from being “thing-oriented” to being “relationship-oriented.” In a recent conversation with a good friend and colleague we were talking about the primary purpose of some work we were doing / teaching together. We both affirmed together that we were trying help ourselves and others engage in a relationship with the material. It’s not a one time thing. It’s an ongoing curiosity. That’s around material and content. This emphasis, however, applies deeply to people in relationship also (don’t forget the whole above). It feels, increasingly, that in times of complexity, that’s when we need more relationship, not less. When we need even more to be alert to our slippery sliding back to the comfort of thinking “things.”

Well, there’s a start. More later this week.


Misty Forest — Welcome Some Wild

From a walk, yesterday. Through forest. Along very steep embankment. Near the top of Cates Hill, on Bowen Island.

There is plenty that is / was breath-taking to me. The steepness of the hill. The full on greenness, that included ground-covering fern and towering trees. The mistiness of it, drizzling rain (because it’s really temporary living in a cloud). And of course, the wander that was only bounded by the end of a session of The Circle Way Board Retreat and then the call to communal dinner.

There’s plenty of why for me in this breath-taking. I suppose most fundamentally is that as the human that I am, I seek more of the feeling of wild. Of abundant and natural life. Of impressive beauty.

And because, sincerely, cultivating this wildness in groups, and the selves that contribute to a group, is utterly necessary.

I’m grateful for such walks, hills, and forests (and the ease of phone in pocket to have a photo of a moment).


On Circle, Getting Simple

With circle, my friend Meg writes in the forward to this book,

  • “…consummate practicality for how transformed communication can change the way we work together…”
  • “…application that is both deep and transcendent…”

Yup, I relate to that. It’s good and honest translation of something that can feel like high in the sky mystery, brought to realness of mud on the ground.

In my 20+ years of doing / being, I’ve learned that circle is not something you do on the side before you get back to the real work. It is the real work. So often. It is the restoring of choice in how we get to do work. And community. And teams. And family. And organizational culture.

But how?

Here’s the simplified part that I love (from The Circle Way).

  1. “Sit in a circle and take turns speaking and listening so that every voice is heard.”
  2. “Put something in the center of the space that symbolizes purpose and holds group focus.”
  3. “Speak agreements for interaction so everyone knows how to contribute.”
  4. “Check-in and check-out so people name how they arrive, and what they learned as they leave.”

“Circle organizes conversation into collaboration, insight, and collective action.”

Why circle?

It’s not about the method for the method’s sake. It’s about what the attentiveness inherent in the method makes possible and available.

Here’s to the many of us in practice, in learning, and in simplifying that gets us to the essence, deep and transcendent.


On Circle from CircuOsity

My friend Jim Strader – Sasser has created a podcast, CircuOsity, that explores many aspects of being human and being community. Jim is among many things, an Episcopal Priest, based in Pennsylvania. Jim and I have known each other now for a year and a half.

Jim recently invited me to record a conversation with him for his podcast. It was fun to do. With Jim’s edits, it ended up being 30 minutes in length. We explore several things:

  • abiding with self and community
  • the reality of mystery (not all things figured out)
  • stories as a way to reclaim context in contemporary life
  • doing things in a good way (several aspects of circle as essential practice for turning to one another)
  • artistry needed in humans being together in rather complex issues
  • leaning in to trouble rather than away (or numbing)
  • and a bunch more

Enjoy. I did.