Systems Thinking & Sashimi

Just recently I had the occasion to speak about our company’s flagship product (big surprise there, eh?). After several examples didn’t bring the lightbulb of recognition to my listener’s eyes, what did work was explaining that sashimi tastes better because it’s in such thin slices that there is more surface area, in other words, you “taste more of it.” You experience a richer taste because there is more exposed to taste, relative to a traditional fillet.

There is a management expression known as the thin slice interview, where an experienced person has a short discussion with players in your industry and can extract the essential details from just a brief encounter. This works because they absorb more, they cover more “topical surface area,” than someone who is not well-versed in the industry. Experts derive answers from the nuances others simply overlook.

One of the great transformations to which the systems thinking discipline has given a voice and a vocabulary is that of shared mental models. This was well established before Senge’s landmark Fifth Discipline (see below). In the same vein that electronic specialists say that voltage across contacts can be thought of like water pressure in a pipe, that’s really the truth about systems thinking and various business processes that arise from it.

Shared mental models are another way of saying shared ideas or sharing part of the surface area in someone else’s brain, heart or both. When you choose to give consideration to the ideas of another, you are joining with them in the commonspace of culture. (For further reading on this, look for the STI Press title The Geography of Relationships, ISBN: 978-1-936248-27-8, due out in Summer 2015. Pre-reserve your copy with a donation to the 501(c)6 STETA Consortium.)

This idea isn’t new: it’s been practiced for centuries by armies, monasteries, religious orders, ethnic and tribal cultures. Zero Mostel sings with great fervor (in Fiddler on the Roof), about the cultural value of tradition.

Our risk analysis and reporting product, a scalable systems analysis framework called Systemkey™, turns the classic management dilemma inside out. In a nutshell, it solves the issue that by the time a new hire learns enough to be really valuable, they’re often heading out the door in boredom or disgust—or they’ve become “part of the ship, part of the crew.”

By engaging new hires in their strength, which is their fresh perspective, we transform the path through the landscape, rather than trying to transform the landscape itself. Ask yourself which is cheaper, faster and easier: buying a four-wheeler and making a new path, or engineering a superhighway? Both have their value, both have their place and in the right situations, both are right choices. If you need answers now, engineering a new highway is dumb if you can take a jet to your destination. As you study the process of change across companies and industries, you see so many implementations fail because people failed to consider scale.

Using Systemkey™ allows you to take the jet, scale down to take the jeep or when it’s time to scale up, to build the highway; it can play a major role in helping you meet your milestones to stay on schedule and under budget.

Remember enthusiasm and persistence rule the day, so carpe diem!

Matt

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A walk in the forest…

Systems Thinking teaches us how to scale our perspective to study the forest or the trees, while Systems Engineering tells us what to do with the data we find.

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