Puzzles are one of my favorite things to do with my family when we get bored at home. The more pieces they have, the more enjoyable they are to complete. Have you ever gotten to the end of the puzzle and realized a piece was missing? Now that is frustrating. After putting in hours of work to complete the picture, the missing piece didn’t allow us to finish it…
Every piece of the puzzle has a purpose to the picture as a whole (now that’s some good alliteration); it fits specifically with other pieces and ultimately brings the picture to life. However, if I were to stare at one piece for an hour and think about its importance to the puzzle, there would really be no progress in the puzzle. In other words, the success of each piece does not add up to the success of the whole.
As leaders it is vital to develop the ability for systems thinking. This means to see the synergy of the whole system, rather than focusing on individual elements. In fact, sometimes changing one element to solve a problem can actually make the system function less effectively!
We think we are doing the right thing by focusing our attention on one element at a time, when in fact, everything else is sinking around us and there is no progress happening…
Seeing the synergy through systems thinking can help us consider two important ideas:
1. Relationship among the parts
To develop systems thinking is to develop a new mental discipline and framework to notice different patterns among the elements. Like a puzzle, each piece fits with another piece perfectly to bring the vision to life; there is a specific pattern and flow among the pieces. Using systems thinking will allow you to realize various patterns of movement among the parts that can help you make better decisions moving towards the solution.
2. Complexity of the system
Systems can generally be quite complicated, and not understanding it conceptually will make us hit blockages and see limits to growth. Getting to the section of the puzzle where it is mostly one color is frustrating because it seems like forever until I can complete it. The complexity of the puzzle can be overwhelming, and in the same way, leaders of a system may have less confidence in making decisions. However, as we look at the system with a wide-angle lens and see the underlying structures, we can more easily make decisions to facilitate improvement!
Systems thinking is an ability to develop and will take some time as you train your mind to look at the big picture.
The next time you are searching for a solution to a problem in your system, ask yourself, “Am I seeing the synergy?”