How to get it


Has she got it?

Well, has she?

This is what I’ve heard people ask, if someone has got it or not. Meaning systems thinking. Of course.
It’s not like getting the measles, I know that, but I’ve been puzzled for a while as to what it actually means. It’s a bit like art or pornography, you know it when you see it but otherwise can’t define it. I know what people mean when they say it, and I say it too, but I couldn’t describe it for people. In a sentence you can write down.


When I was doing the systems thinking fundamentals course with a team, there was a character who was loving it, nodding head furiously, agreeing etc. I overheard them say…

of course this is great stuff, finding out what staff are saying in reality too. We can put what they should be saying into scripts. You can control anything with the scripts, and ALL you have to do is change it once in the main script and everyone gets the same changes. No need to train it out.

They knew enough to see that there were problems, they hadn’t learnt enough to chuck out their old beliefs about controlling people through scrolling words on a computer screen.

They hadn’t yet got it.

That’s what getting it means. Meaning that you’ve learnt that you need to chuck stuff out of your head, because you’ve found it doesn’t work, not just cram more in on top of the old stuff. Another tool in the toolbox? No it’s not that. Its emptying the toolbox onto the kitchen lino and chucking most of them in the bin.

A test for “have they got it?” is “What have they learnt doesn’t work, and what will they stop doing as a consequence?”. That’s getting it.

Take it away Danny!

This entry was posted in command and control, learning, me doing it, systems thinking in housing benefits, thinking, vanguard method and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to How to get it

  1. Lucy says:

    Loving your ideas, your style and the fact that you quote from Danny Kaye films!
    Not loving the fact that I am one budding systems-thinker vs hundreds of traditional thinkers in my organisation. Am also reading Drive by Dan Pink which is making me even more enlightened and depressed at the same time. TGIF 🙂


  2. knittingfog says:

    A former colleague used to described systems thinking as one of many useful tools which I had at my disposal. And that – lucky me – I could bring it out at key moments, or leave it in the tool box in preference to using EFQM, Risk management, Lean, PRINCE2 or something else I had had training in which would be “more relevant to the situation”. It used to drive me mad and I found it impossible to work out a coherent way of saying that no, once you’ve seen the light, it changes how you view everything because you unlearn a load of stuff that you realise you basically were too lazy to think very hard about before, because someone very senior was patting you on the back saying that those action plans/inspections/reports you produced were so great. (At least, I couldn’t find a way to say that without coming across all evangelical and holier than thou). So I just shut up and smiled politely, mentally crossing them off my inner circle of people I would ever truly get along with.

    I was even so bold as to ask John Seddon (at a seminar thing, not like we’re best mates or owt) what was the best way to respond to such people, and he just advised that I tell them to read a book. As if I wouldn’t already have thought of that. Sigh.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Perhaps there’s nothing you CAN do or say, in those situations? I’ve learned to not give a toss. Or rather am learning, that business over what bits are in your control and what aren’t, I’m finding that’s good and useful. Tons of philosophy seems to be based on it, stoicism and Taoism anyway. So I’m finding useless colleagues are spiritual boon


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