As a systems thinker, I don’t ever recall a time that I couldn’t see systems. However, as I was learning about the various complexity terms and aspects, light bulb after light bulb went off, and having the words that explained what I understood gave me more confidence. What I learned from my MA was rich and invaluable, and while it did not result in me being fluent in "complexity speak", the following are some of the terms that have especially resonated with me and continually show up in my work, life, and all the things I do.
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We are currently in a podcast series on the complexity of artificial intelligence and we recently shared our interview with AI researcher, leading Complex Systems Scientist, Professor of Computer Science at Portland State University, and external professor at the Santa Fe Institute, Melanie Mitchell.
Mitchell’s background originally stems from Mathematics and Physics. She became curious about how intelligence emerges from a complex system after reading Douglas Hofstadter’s book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. Hofstadter later became her Phd advisor after she sought him out at the University of Michigan. Mitchell attributes her professional journey to his guidance, as well as, Professor John Holland, who was a pioneer in the field of genetic algorithms. Holland was also an early founder of the Santa Fe Institute and encouraged Mitchell’s involvement with the Institute.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been able to zoom out, per se, to see the big picture or whole system and, at the same time, understand the smaller parts that make up the system. However, it wasn’t until my late 20’s that I realized that not everyone is wired this way and that this ability is referred to as being a “system thinker”. I’ve also learned that people’s level of systems thinking varies across a wide spectrum.
As a curious systems thinker, earning my BA in Organizational Communication deepened my understanding of and ability to be a systems thinker. The following are some of the system thinking approaches that I practiced when earning my degree and continue to use in areas of my life today.
We read a great post on the Systems Thinking World discussion group on LinkedIn today by Andy Walkden, entitled "Are Systems Thinkers the Cassandras of the Modern World?" I've wondered that myself, not so much because there aren't enough systems thinkers (most of us are capable of it), but more because the nuances and behaviors of complex systems are not yet woven into our language....