The "Secret Sauce" to A Systems Thinking Lens

Our recent podcast series on design thinking (aka human-centered design) has really helped us better understand complexity and systems-thinking. It’s amazing the parallels we found in the approach and methodology of design thinking and the terminology found in complex systems theory. But arguably, the most interesting similarities we found were in human characteristics, ideologies, and perspectives.

At their core, complexity and design thinking are utilized by people who keep an open-mind, holding space for new perspectives and ideas. They flex their mind muscles with much practice, expanding their points of view by making an effort to, at a minimum, acknowledge other perspectives. These people are curious and their non-linear thinking is driven by emotional intelligence; because there isn’t room for ego, stubbornness, or rigidity when evaluating systems. Using a “systems lens” requires tailored behavior, a fine-tuning of self, in order to gain clarity.  

Self-awareness brings more attention to our mental models, which might be holding us back and keeping us from seeing the big picture in an unbiased way. Many of us fall victim to mental traps. The trick is to recognize when it happens so you can shift your perspective, because those who can observe and engage without attached bias are able to identify connections as they emerge. They don’t see only what they want to see. They don’t judge or make assumptions.They don’t force their will upon any system. Instead, they listen, not just to what people say, but how they say it. They question everything.

In design thinking, we look for patterns and themes which pertain to customers, and complexity theory is the same, but can be applied more broadly, to any type of system. The fact is, finding meaningful connections can strengthen any system and any design.

“The ways in which the agents in a system connect and relate to one another is critical to the survival of the system.”  

We are so fascinated by the connections we have discovered along the way in our journey to learn. We don’t claim to be experts on any one methodology, framework, or theory. We just love that opportunity arises from our interactions with each other, and that when we consciously hold space and appreciation for each other, great things can happen. We have been flexing our mind muscles with every casual conversation, interaction, and exchange of ideas. It’s a practice which continues to help us develop our "systems lens", so that we are more able to identify the connections within our human systems, the systems that effect us all. 

We are all holding a piece of the puzzle, and the only way we can get to the big picture is to see how they fit together.
— Stacy Hale

You can listen to the HumanCurrent podcast here and don't forget to subscribe in iTunes. In our latest episode Angie interviews Andrea Ippolito from the Department of Veteran Affairs to discuss human-centered design. -- Let's work happy!