If you are new to systems thinking, you might get overwhelmed by all of the information and terminology. You can read through models and explore feedback loops but still not quite understand much more than, “everything is a system.”
If this is familiar to you, one of the best steps to take is to start to look for patterns in life. Patterns give us a clear look at the byproducts of a system. You might not be able to spot the system, but the pattern can tip you off as to where to look.
Patterns are all around us. The sun comes up every day and sets every night. We generally wake and fall asleep at the same times each day and night.
We can start to see that every time we are around a certain person we start to feel a certain way. This could be a happy feeling, anxious feeling, depressed feeling etc. But we will feel this way almost every time we are together.
We tend to get hungry at the same times each day. We can explore when we go to a restaurant, go to the bar, go to the gym etc. What prompts us to do that?
Most people would just say they don’t know or don’t care. But a systems thinker is different, we are curious. We see the pattern and see the system driving that pattern.
The stock market tends to follow similar patterns of bull and bear markets. There is seasonality for retail stores, back to school supplies, heating and cooling companies etc.
It doesn’t rain for months on end; it rains and then clears up, then rains, then clears up.
Everywhere there is a pattern there is an underlying system at work. It could be laws of physics at work, bodily systems, the solar system, politics etc.
Patterns are powerful. At work I am highly sensitive to these patterns. If I hear an employee got a low productivity number I never react immediately. I investigate and then look to see if there is a pattern or if this was just an anomaly.
When I taught college courses I took the same approach. One failing grade on a test didn’t determine a student’s final grade. But the patterns I would see from each test or each assignment would indicate where their grade would ultimately end up.
When something out of the ordinary happens, does it follow any sort of pattern?
When there is another school shooting I find myself thinking more about the pattern than the individual incident. The fact that these form a recurring pattern signals a major problem with the system, one that we can’t seem to fix.
When we start to see patterns, especially around problems, we can start to better understand the systematic elements that are involved. Then we can start to have clarity around what we are likely to do next. Then we gain the freedom to change that pattern or continue with the pattern.
But without that understanding we simply do what we always did and we continue to be prisoners of the system, enablers of the system and builders of the system all at the same time.