Three levels of System Thinking

In a recent blog post:  three kinds of “thinking” are described – Analytical, Lateral and Critical thinking. Following is our take on this subject:

In our view, every activity and/or solution is an INPUT/TRANSFORMATION/OUTPUT system.

TRANSFORMATION represents the Phenomena pertinent to the activity. Understanding the Transformation implicitly, explicitly or through inference/intuition is the “SCIENCE”. Application of the Transformation to obtain the desired change of the inputs to outputs is the “ENGINEERING” behind the activity or solution. Discerning the Output between the “What?” and “Why?” is the strategic thinking. Ensuring that the desired outputs are achieved by orderly integration – with respect to time, cost, resources and their efficient deployment – of the inputs to effect the transformation is the “Operational” aspect of the activity. Strategy and Operations are the two sides of anything we call as “MANAGEMENT”.

In this Systems thinking there are three levels, which relate to the three aspects described in in the blog post mentioned above

AWARENESS: analytical thinking mainly aims to review the data/information we are presented with (for relevance, patterns, trends etc.) — the ability to clarify the information on-hand and their assignment into the various aspects of the “System” as defined above. It also helps to identify the missing data or gaps and the questions to ask and in what order?

ANALYSIS: Lateral thinking aims to put data/information into a new or different context (in order to generate alternative answers or solutions) — answer the questions raised using the tools of Science, Engineering and Management in an interdisciplinary manner. Today such lateral thinking is part of higher education, but limited to the three disciplines, but mostly as impermeable silos!

SYNTHESIS: Critical thinking aims to make an overall or holistic judgment about the data/information which is as free from false premises or bias as much as possible — ability to answer the question ” 2 + 2 = ?” with an answer, “Why is this question raised in the first place” ? Then find answers which might lead to “2+2 = 3, 4, 5 or Fruit Salad”. In the last case it will be the sum of two fruits (Apple and Orange) with two other fruits (Peach and Banana) together with some ice cream on the side making the whole the Fruit Salad! Hence CRITICAL THINKING can be thought of as third level of SYSTEM THINKING, where the whole is seen as larger (or smaller, if that is the output of the “System”) than the mere sum of the parts. It is an ability to see the picture or pattern, rather than the mere emphasis on the pixels! For more details on System Thinking and the three levels:

Work shop for increasing the PE Score

Professionals today face challenges from two fronts.
• Their output is highly valued when there is a direct and visible connection to the PRDUCT (source of revenue), PROCESSes (That enable the Product) and/or the Application/USE of the Product. We identify this kind of work with identifiable impact as Professional Work (A).
• Absent such deliberate emphasis the professionals slowly drift towards highly task driven information work (B) and endless physical tasks (C)

As a result the professional is required to constantly focus on increasing the Professional Effectiveness. The PE – Score can be measured as the ratio of the impactful work of professionals as a fraction of their total effort.

PE Score = A / (A + B + C)

Recently we conducted a 2- day work shop on System Thinking and Transformational Skills at a Fortune 100 company to train their professionals with tools and means to increase their PE Score. The work shop was conducted for a group of 40 senior engineers and managers. We are pleased to present the summary of the feedback as noted in the table below:
Category Rating        (%)
The facilitator was knowledgeable about the subject                                                   91%
The facilitator was prepared and organized                                                                   89%
Participants were encouraged to take part in course discussions                             90%
The facilitator was responsive to participants’ needs and questions                        90%
The facilitator’s energy and enthusiasm kept the participants actively engaged  84%
Work shop materials and content:
The material content was appropriate                                                                          81%
The objectives were clearly explained                                                                           83%
The course content/materials were sufficient to achieve course objectives          81%
The length of the course was appropriate for the course objectives                       76%
Learning Effectiveness
I learned new knowledge and skills from this course               85%
This course was relevant to my work                                           84%
Near Term Impact:
I will be able to apply the knowledge and skills learned in this course to do my job    83%
Business Impact:
This course will improve my job performance.                                                        82%
Overall Impression:
I would recommend this training to my colleagues and co-workers                    84%

The professionals who attended the work shop also offered the following summary comments on their learnings from this work shop:
• The methodology was good and easy to relate to my work
• Binary Economy, System approach, the concept of “Why?”
• Work shop contents helped me to correlate and think on the connection.
System thinking
Approach to system thinking
• Concepts like binary economy, PE – Score
• Understood about A,B,C concepts,- Professional work, Information work and Physical work – very new learning
• PE Score – New concept
• PE Score, need to focus constantly on delivering innovative solutions else we will become obsolete
System approach and tools for transformational thinking
Different perspective on my day to day activities
Thought process to identify value from customer perspective, improve productivity and achieve engaged employees through challenging work
This kind of training itself is a new concept for us
• Emphasis on core capability enhancement to sustain and survive
• System/complete solution approach and science involved in all the projects we work
• Out of the box thinking in a different perspective
New way of working to improve efficiency and effectiveness
• Good presenter (knowledgeable & proven experience)
• Examples and video shown are excellent