systems thinking


School has ended.
I am grateful.
I am grateful school has ended.
School has ended well.

Part of the graceful ending of my master’s program was an opportunity to record a “This I Believe” statement and have it played as I stood in the middle of the circle of faculty and classmates; each one a part of this transformational experience. The intent of the exercise was for each individual to be witnessed and celebrated at this journey end. Here is my statement:

This I believe…that each person has an eternal, spiritual essence that holds our deepest callings, purpose and desire for destiny.

I believe that creativity is birthed out of the place of spirit and that to nurture our spirit is to support our ability to do the unique and meaningful work that we are drawn to do.

I believe that that work is best supported when we recognize that every connection we have with people, places and things can be characterized as a relationship.

I believe that engaging our spirits in these relationships will bring the greatest satisfaction and deepest meaning to life.

Christmas! I hate Christmas!!!

These were the words of a *friend who did a system interview with me late last year. We were identifying what was currently true about her family system and the most obvious and painful reality was that Christmas was a difficult holiday to navigate with any success. As we explored why that was so, it soon became evident that her family had an extensive list of unspoken rules that governed the holiday. We started to list the rules and soon filled up one page, then another with all the activities, behavior and expectations that had become the norm for Christmas with the family.

After filling the second page, we stopped and reflected on what had been listed so far. Hmmm…one family member always got sick and didn’t come to Christmas day family events, another family member was expected to dress up in a funny costume for the younger kids, Christmas day itself was frenetic because it had to be celebrated with mom’s family and dad’s family at separate times and locations, extravagant gifts were expected, etc.

Acknowledging that these rules existed was huge. Here was an example of a potential place in my friend’s family system where a small change could make a big difference (a leverage point). After reflecting some more on the rules that had come to light, my friend had some decisions to make.

What rules did she actually like? Which rules did she not want to follow anymore? What rules would she like to create for the Christmas holidays? Here was where the rubber met the road…she was at full choice on how she would relate to the family and the family rules.

This was a place of leverage for my friend and she took the challenge to utilize it by choosing how she would relate to these rules from now on.

What about you? Think of a system that you are currently a part of (family, community, work, city, church, non-profit, etc.), allow yourself some reflection time to notice what rules are present in this system and list the rules that come to mind – both spoken and unspoken. What did you discover? Were you surprised?

Now, which rules do you want to support? Which rules do you want to change? Which rules will you address in the system? How will you live your life differently now that you are more aware of and conscious of the rules that run your system…and maybe even run you?

My challenge: Pick one rule that you want to address and take action. Which one will it be?

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Please let me know if you take the challenge…and what happened!!!

*Shared by permission.

I saw the following video posted on a friend’s blog today and was struck by the deeply systemic view of life held by Jose Antonio Abreu, a Venezuelan who created a deeply influential movement to change the culture in his country through music. Please take a look at this 16 minute video for yourself and see what you notice about Jose’s view of culture and his method of bringing transformation to a whole country.

Click here to view the video at TED.com.

Who knew music could transform families, bring social justice, and influence a social system so profoundly?

What are you passionate about? How are your skills and passionate pursuits influencing your social systems? Or are they?

Sleeping on the overnight train from Bhopal to Madras, India was a challenge. The night time air was crisper than the warm January days and the *punjabi clothing I wore was just substantial enough to keep me comfortable for sleeping. With my sheer **duppatta over me to give some semblence of a blanket, I finally drifted off to sleep as the train clacked along the tracks.

At some point in the night I awoke with a start. I saw the back of an Indian man, dressed in a khaki travel suit, walking away from my berth. I was stunned to realize he had just kissed me on the cheek!

Far from enjoying this as a travel adventure, I was afraid. The best I could do was call out “Hey!” as I watched the man’s retreating back. Mukesh, who was in the berth across the aisle, sleepily sat up. He realized something had happened but was not sure what. So much for protection! Kari, also a part of my travel group, heard my cry as well. She told me the next morning that she had spent the rest of the night afraid…wondering what had happened.

It is now over a decade since this memorable kiss and I smile and laugh now as I tell the story. I’ve actually begun to wonder if that was an angel, giving me a sweet reminder that even in the darkest and remotest places I am seen and known by God. But, at the time, I had no such thoughts. I felt violated, afraid and unsafe. I spent the rest of the night with the duppatta over my head.

They say that time heals. I disagree. It is not time that heals, but what takes place over time that makes the difference. What I know now that I did not know then, was that a true sense of safety is something internal and not something dependent on my circumstances or who I am with. 

When do you feel the most safe? The most free to embark on adventure or try new things? Please share.

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*aka salwar kameez – long, knee length shirt and matching pants
**long length of material worn around the neck, meant to cover the chest

I arrived at Caribou Coffee ready for our monthly advisory board meeting – preparing for a conference to be held in 2009. As we sat down and settled in with our coffee or tea, one of the ladies started talking about a huge change that had taken place since Obama was elected the prior Tuesday. She enthusiastically shared how for the first time in her life, she felt there was an “us” that she was a part of in the U.S. She felt included and a part of the country in a way she never had before. She also mentioned that there was now no excuse for holding back or not going for her dreams. This was also something she had heard from others in the days after the election.

After this enthusiastic reveal, the rest of us went around the table to check in with what was going on with each of us before we got down to business. I was next at the table and shared how I had been challenged to say “yes” to change on a personal level in the past week. Another woman mentioned that she had had a breakthrough and that her fear was gone. Another said that she was finally able to successfully follow a diet without being tempted and giving in. Another said that for the first time she could say she was proud to be an American.

Each of the other women acknowledged that the election of Obama had had a major impact on their life in some way. I sat there stunned. Never had I heard such a report after any other election in my lifetime! It felt like testimony time at a revival meeting!

revival [ri-vahy-vuh l] -noun
1. restoration to life, consciousness, vigor, strength, etc.
(www.dictionary.com)

Here was an example of a change in leadership of a system (United States) having an impact on the system.

How has this change in leadership affected you? What impact do you see this change having in your life and the people you know?

One of the things I discovered while reading Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline” is that it was giving me words that I had not had before. This was beautifully described on page 158 when Peter wrote:

Einstein…could also take brilliant intuitions and convert them into succinct, rationally testable propositions. As managers gain facility with systems thinking as an alternative language, they find that many of their intuitions become explicable. Eventually, reintegrating reason and intuition may prove to be one of the primary contributions of systems thinking.

I’m finding this true in my experience. The more I’m learning about systems thinking, the more I have language to communicate my intuition.

And you? What do you think?