Blaming others for our problems is incredibly easy. In almost every conceivable scenario we find a way to shift some blame towards something external.
But blaming something “external” doesn’t make sense from a systems thinking standpoint. In linear thinking it does because the way the problem is framed, but it doesn’t make sense when look at the full system.
Looking at the full system gives us more to see than linear thinking. This is good because we can start to see how we interact with the system and how the system is impacted by our own action.
In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge says, “We all tend to blame someone else – the competitors, the press, the changing mood of the marketplace, the government – for our problems. Systems thinking shows us that there is no separate ‘other’; that you and the someone else are part of a single system. The cure lies in your relationship with your ‘enemy’.”
This is very insightful. If we blame the marketing people at the sporting goods company for convincing you to buy too many golf clubs and now you can’t pay your rent, we are really the one driving that system, not the marketing people.
If we blame a local restaurant for using too much butter, salt, sugar etc. in their cooking and causing our waistlines to expand, we aren’t seeing the full system. From their perspective they have to use all of those ingredients otherwise you and a lot of other people would probably go to another restaurant that serves delicious (and unhealthy) food. In this system, their survival and success as a business relies on convincing you to eat there.
If we say we can’t get a job because the economy is too bad, we are ignoring the fact that, even in a bad economy, there are still more people working than not working.
Yes these are all factors that have influence on the system. Linear thinking might have us believe that because they are part of the system and have influence then they must be the one to blame. Systems thinkers see all of these and the interrelationships and see the various influences throughout the system.
We have significantly more control over our life than we let on. We aren’t just pawns being moved around by a bunch of powerful people at the top. Yes there are powerful people and yes they are looking out for their own self-interest but our decisions and our responses to situations will dictate what we do and where we go in life.
So if you find yourself feeling powerless in an area you are failing, start to take a step back. Try to see the full system instead of just a snapshot of it.
This will lead to a clearer understanding of the full system and will give insight into leverage points that we can change in order to improve.
We might find that we can overcome many of our failures and shortcomings with the right approach. Systems thinking helps us better understand the situation and then put systems solutions in place, rather than giving up and looking for a scapegoat to blame.