We tend to look at things linearly. We see cause and effect, beginning and end, start and finish. But the reality is that we tend to ignore most of the system in order to try to understand reality.
One of the best resources for understanding this limitation and how to adjust your thinking to better understand the full system in various situations is Donella Meadows. In her book she describes the limitations that we have when we ignore the full system.
Meadows provides some insight into this type of thinking by giving an example. In her book Thinking in Systems she says, “If a frog turns right and catches a fly, and then turns left and catches a fly, and then turns around backwards and catches a fly, the purpose of the frog has to do not with turning left or right or backward but with catching a fly.”
This simple example shows the mistakes that we often make when look at a situation and make judgments without fully understanding the system. Yet we do this in many areas of our lives.
We see a car accident and wonder which driver is at fault. But there were likely numerous factors at play. Was someone else speeding by and caused the at-fault driver to change lanes quickly? Could the accident have been avoided if the other driver (who wasn’t at fault) simply slowed down? It may be determined that one person caused the accident but there are many factors that contribute to the accident.
In our personal systems and habits this helps us to understand our world in a better way. We can start to see that our eating habits contribute to a future risk of a disease. We can see that the way we budget our money today will determine how we can live at retirement.
But it can be difficult to see this clearly without understanding systems and how the various elements of a system all work together. That is where Meadows’ work is really impactful. It gives a different perspective to highlight the systematic approach in a world that is very complex.
While this can be interesting, it can also help us to better understand how to achieve our goals. We can better understand the overall company goals rather than feeling our boss is out to get us. We can better understand the policies that the presidential candidates argue about. We can understand diseases in a much more thorough way.
But too often we ignore the system and look for the easy to fix to a problem. We ignore everything else and just focus on the problem. Then we want to find the easiest and quickest solution.
In order to change your perspective to give you a much better chance of success, spend some time evaluating the systems around the problem. While there may be a quick and easy solution, the solution often times is just covering the manifestation of the problem, not solving the problem itself.
By seeing the full system you are likely to see a much different way to solve the problem. Instead of looking for a quick fix you start to change the various aspects of the system in order to slowly improve. But this improvement is directly related to the actual cause of the problem and will provide a much better result than any quick fix.