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Seeing the full system can be difficult

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.  

Seeing the full system can be difficult

Scott Miker

Each time there is a deadly mass shooting in the United States, we get a sense of the larger systems at play with regards to guns.  Some will point to an aspect of the system and feel they have a solution.  Some will defend their position.  Some will work to use the event for political gain.

The systems in the United States around guns are incredibly complex and deeply ingrained in the various beliefs people have.  This makes a simple, linear solution impossible. 

Linear thinking is the idea that everything can be looked at as cause and effect, before and after, start and finish etc.  It takes a very complex system and turns our attention to one small aspect of the system.  Then we think we have an understanding of the situation, but the reality is that we block out most of the systematic elements in our attempt to focus on a small section of the system.

This makes it incredibly difficult to find a solution.  A solution to some might seem like an ineffective ploy to take away citizen’s rights to others.  So instead of any real progress the system keeps humming along.  Most of the time we only realize it when one of the negative effects of the system comes to light, such as a mass shooting, gun violence close to home etc. 

On one side of the gun debate are people that just don’t want guns around.  They likely don’t own guns and feel that without the ease of obtaining a gun much of the violence would subside. 

On the other side are responsible gun owners that feel guns help them stay confident that they can defend themselves if necessary.  On this side are all the gun companies and billions of dollars that are all trying to share their messages of responsible gun ownership and the ties to the founding fathers approach to owning weapons.

The problem is that instead of looking for a system solution that addresses the problems, both sides just want to fight against the other side.  In linear thinking it is easy to see one side and dismiss the other’s point of view.  It becomes more about defeating the other side than in finding a real solution. 

In systems thinking the full system must be looked at and the solution has to make sense systematically.  This likely means some give and take and compromise so it isn’t one side “winning” one side “losing.”

But in American politics the sides have already been chosen and each side focuses solely on beating the other side.  So we have waves where one side wins a little and then other side wins a little.  One side passes some laws in their favor and then a new president comes along and passes laws from their side’s beliefs.

All the while, no real progress is evident.  We just keep repeating the cycle.  Over and over again. 

So in order to be able to come up with systematic solutions, we have to get a better sense of the full system.  The best way to start is to try and see the opposing side’s argument.

This doesn’t mean just reading why they believe what they do and thinking to yourself why they are wrong, it actually means starting to agree with their points.  Their points likely have some validity that can clue you in to parts of the system that you are ignoring due to linear thinking.

This isn’t just something that helps with understanding the gun problem in the country.  At work when you find yourself in disagreement with coworkers, try to see it from their side.  When you argue with your family try to better understand why they feel the way they do. 

The first time I did this effectively was several years ago.  I was reading Wayne Dyer’s book, Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, and I was struggling with some of the key messages.  I just couldn’t understand how it could be right and seemed to go against some core beliefs that I had at the time.  It even seemed like it was against common sense at times. 

The more I read the more I kept thinking that he might be on to something.  Finally I stopped reading the book as if I was judging each message against what I believe and starting to read it with a complete open mind.  I read it as if it were 100% true.

Something truly strange started to happen.  I started to gain an understanding of the concepts in the books much more thoroughly and I saw many beliefs that I had were wrong.  To say that book changed my life is an understatement.

In order to truly understand a system, we can’t get sucked into one side’s point of view.  If we do we may find ourselves ignoring key factors in the system and fighting for a linear solution that just won’t work.  Instead learn how to objectively see all sides.  This will reveal the events, patterns, structures and mental models evident in every system but that often go unnoticed.