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When you understand systems you quickly understand new complex problems

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

When you understand systems you quickly understand new complex problems

Scott Miker

Years ago when I started a new job I remember getting into the role and identifying problem areas right away.  From talking to others on the team, to reviewing data on past trends, I started to see a few areas that I would need to address in order to improve the team.

I remember feeling like I already worked through these problems.  It was almost a feeling of deja vu.  But it was new people, new projects, new situations, new everything. 

Now that I have studied systems thinking I understand what I was feeling.  I was simply seeing common system problems.  While the details were different the systems archetype was not.  According to Wikipedia the systems archetype “are patterns of behavior in a system.”

Wikipedia goes on to say “Systems expressed by circles of causality have therefore similar structure.  Identifying a systems archetype and finding the leverage enables efficient changes in the system.”

What this means is that there are standard types of systems.  One example is the Shifting the Burden archetype.  This system appears when there is a problem and the solution that is used doesn’t address the primary source of the problem.  It usually looks like a quick, Band-Aid fix. 

It could be for a company to sell off valuable assets in order to have a short term rise in stock price but in the future this will make it more difficult for the company to be competitive.  It looks like they solved the problem of a falling stock price, but this is just a short-term cover and not likely to help in the long term. 

Or it could be using dangerous diet pills to lose some weight.  While the desire to lose weight and get healthy seems to be solved, the solution is not a long-term solution and will result in side effects that deteriorate one’s health. 

So once you understand this type of system you are better able to quickly identify it.  When you see a problem as a system and understand the various aspects of the system, you can better find the right solutions.  As Wikipedia states, “Identifying a systems archetype and finding the leverage enables efficient changes in the system.”

This is what allowed me to move into a new role and quickly find ways to improve the team.  I bypassed the quick fix thinking and went right after the primary source of the problem, not the symptoms that most people focused on.  It wasn’t that I had previous experience with that exact situation; I just had previous experience with that systems archetype. 

It took a little time but soon the recurring problems slowly dissolved.  When a new problem would come up, we would immediately look for a system solution that would address the root cause.  We would use the symptoms to help us understand the problem but wouldn’t stay locked into the symptoms so much that we couldn’t get to the underlying patterns, structures, and mental models.  Because the more you understand the patterns, structures and mental models the more leverage you have in finding ways to improve. 

This is the value of systems thinking.  You can start to see things in a new way and are better able to get to the cause of problems instead of only addressing the symptoms.  When you understand systems you quickly understand new complex problems and have the ability to put in place proper solutions.