Mindworks’ Weblog

Thinking Matters

Only connect – second attempt

Posted by Andrew Cooper on July 9, 2008

What I meant to say when I started the ramble below was that ‘the idea’ has many interesting systemsy features.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m very interested in systems thinking.  It’s simply a way of thinking about the world which takes account of connectedness.  Like other thinking ‘tools’ it helps us to understand things better. We have to separate the world into different parts – subjects at school, for example – to help us understand complexity.  But as Peter Senge said in the opening paragraph of ‘The Fifth Discipline‘ – if you only read one book about organisations and management, that should be it, in my view:

“From a very early age, we are taught to break apart problems, to fragment the world. This makes apparently complex tasks and subjects more manageable, but we pay a hidden, enormous price.  We can no longer see the consequences of our actions; we lose our intrinsic sense of connection to a larger whole.”  The Fifth Discipline is about 5 things that organisations need to be good at to be effective ‘learning organisations’ – the fifth is systems thinking.

Returning to ‘the idea’, at present, I feel as though I’m standing at the centre of a web which has connections spreading out in all directions.  There are connections related to people. Lots of people I know, know about things which can help to make the idea work.  There are also connections related to ideas – things I’ve learnt about over the years: systems theory itself, how organisations work, psychology and managing change, innovation, and so on.  They are all helping to make sense of and develop the idea.  Lastly, there are connections within the idea itself.

As anyone who has read this will know, I don’t like jargon.  I largely think in terms of Whats and Hows when I’m trying to understand things.  I ask myself questions like ‘Is this a good how for that what?’  and ‘What could this be a how of?’  or think things like ‘Interesting how, but I think they’ve completely forgotten what the what is?’  (I don’t say much of this out loud, for obvious reasons, and have been known to use words like ‘strategy’ and ‘goal’ in ordinary conversation, even when I’m thinkng What.)

I explain more about whats and how in this presentation which is included on a CD, with some others, in the Mindworks Box.  (Did I mention that I’m very happy to swap these boxes for some of your money?)

Because ‘the idea’ involves a very high level what – it’s essentially about involving a large group of people in some collective learning about a very large subject – there are, literally, hundreds of hows.  The presentation I linked to above mentions the obvious point that a ‘how’ at one level is a ‘what’ for the next level down.  Each what can often have many hows.  Simple, isn’t it?


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