The loneliest whale in the world.

Meet the loneliest whale in the world.


She doesn’t speak the same language as other whales so they can’t hear her.

This is the same as systemsy talking.

Once your mental model changes from stupid ol’ command and control to systems thinking you start to forget what on earth you were thinking. Literally.

Although you’ve been given the privilege of learning two mental models, the one you used to have that you didnt know you had, and a newer more useful one, it’s not possible to BELIEVE in the same way that you used to.

When this happens, you can’t see how people can think the way that they do about targets, measures, work decisions, people. Anything really, because the thing that you use to make sense of things is totally changes, everything changes with it.

Not only are you now saddled with not seeing how others could possibly speak and think like they do, the dice is loaded even more against you…

A pair of loaded dice, yesterday

A pair of loaded dice, yesterday

The dice that is loaded against you is the language dice.

“there are two kinds of causation: direct and systemic. Every language in the world has direct causation in its grammar; no language has systemic causation in its grammar.”[link]

For example…

  • Was Hurrican Katrina “caused by” global warming?
  • The bad experience you had when you rang the callcentre, was it “caused by” the existence of customer service standards?
  • If you have an 11 year old child in teh UK, they’re probably spending their time at school practising sitting test papers at the moment, rather than learning. Is this “caused by” Ofsted [the school inspection body]?
  • The time your house was burgled, was this “caused by” the level of income inequality in your country?

Well probably. But this isn’t “caused by” in the sense that most people use it, which is as a direct one to one cause and effect. Like the desk toy, below.

The causal influences on the burglar deciding to enter your house and steal from it are so convoluted and distantly linked to the level of income inequality, that it’s easier to blame them as “bad” people or blame their upbringing, depending on who you vote for.
But harder than that is how you talk about it to people who prefer simpler cause/effect to just knowing that something is a predictable feature of a system, no matter how unclear the actual tangled roots of causation are.

The lack of a specific way of talking about systemic causation is an example of “hypocognition”. This is…

“missing, and being unable to communicate cognitive and linguistic representations because there are no words for particular concepts”[link]

In Tahiti a researcher found that the indigenous people had no words to describe sorrow or guilt, leading to people who had suffered personal losses describing themselves as feeling sick or strange instead of sad.
Not having a word for something means its hard to think about, to talk about, and to do something about.
For example it is easier to dislike and want to do something to reduce the “tax burden”, because it captures in two words a position. But what about people who would prefer to pay for quality public services and a consequent higher tax rate? How is it possible to talk to people about this without an equivalent phrase that means the opposite?
Having the right words makes it possible though, an example of this is “pro-choice”. Note, it is not “pro-abortion”. Just as people who are “anti abortion” are more likely to self identify as “pro-life”.

There are of course systemsy words that mean specific things, demand, flow, purpose, feedback. These are normal and won’t frighten people, but they also have other meanings. For example nobody would argue against purpose, it’s a like those hard working families or family values. Everyone likes them, even though few can agree with what they are.

The Hausa people would call the “front” of an object what we would call the back of an object, if you are standing looking at a tree you might consider the “front” of the tree to be the side facing you. But the Hausa assume that the tree is facing the same direction as you, therefore the “front” of the tree is on the other side that you cannot see, not the side facing you.

So when I say purpose outloud to a Prince2 project manager, what are the chances that they will be thinking of purpose in the same way?

This entry was posted in command and control, communication, human brains are weird, psychology, systems thinking, thinking and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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