Systems ThinkingIn Part 1 of Systems Thinking post, I talked about how systems thinking can be used to see how our actions and task fit into the bigger picture.

Instead of looking at what we are doing as a finished task by itself, it will help us to understand how we fit into the whole, in order to make the whole at least the sum of its parts, if not more than that.

Some examples:

If you are in management, the single most important thing you can do to drive systems thinking within your organization is to provide some context to the requests/work orders.

When I look back on my own experiences, and the leaders that I was always eager to follow, they all shared some common traits. One of the key traits was their ability to explain what we were doing, and why we were doing it, to the entire organization. It allowed me (and indeed, all of us) to see the systems picture. It was very easy for us to see why we were announcing new products once we saw external customer feedback on our existing product line, and competitive analysis on what our competition was announcing.

You could almost hear the collective, “OK, we are doing well on A, B, and C; but need to beef up X, Y, and Z; and hey! I can affect X – I can’t wait to get out of this meeting and kick around ideas on how we can do that!”

Once we all had a common vision of the finished product in use, we were better able to work in alignment to drive towards accomplishment of that vision — as a team.

That’s great; but what if your management doesn’t do this?

Well, you can try to figure this out youself, using the “5 Whys” technique to understand how our work fits into the larger framework.

The 5 Whys technique asks us to keep asking “Why?” to go to the true root cause; this technique is also key to understanding our tasks. An example of this — someone who is doing assembly may ask “Why am I doing this assembly?” [To meet customer demand.]

“Why is there customer demand for this part?” [Because customers like (our low price, our high quality, our color selection, etc.)]

“Why do customers like this product?” [Because we meet a need (for entertainment, for easier living, for higher productivity at work, etc.)]

“Why are we meeting this need?” [Because it allows us to be competitive in the world marketplace, helps us to become market leaders in our niche, helps us meet a need at a fair price while providing jobs and profits to our stakeholders, etc…]

There is a famous story about a man who is working on a small component in an assembly line. When asked what he worked on, he always said, “I build rockets that take men to the moon.” He had the concept of systems thinking down pat.

Another litmus test – when you talk to craft workers, and ask them what they are doing, listen to their answers: “I’m an electrician.” “I’m a roofer.” “I’m building the world’s most energy efficient office building.”

The last person – they’re a system thinker.

Systems thinking is understanding how your work fits in contextually.

I’d love to hear other comments on business applications for systems thinking – just drop a comment below!