Systems thinking makes you a winner, even when you fail

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Anthony Pica
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Systems thinking makes you a winner, even when you fail

Systems thinking makes you a winner, even when you fail

My wife and I made lunch together. It turned out fantastic. I liked how the crushed red pepper gave the homemade salad dressing a nice kick.

I’m not a good cook (yet) and so my initial thought was “we used red pepper, the meal tasted great, so let’s use it again.” But using that one ingredient next time doesn’t guarantee another positive outcome.

Systems thinking is a mindset where you see how individual parts, including ideas and decisions, connect and affect each other. It’s a strategy for analyzing not only how an outcome was achieved, but more importantly why. “Why did the red pepper impact the taste the way it did?” Now I’m on the path to understanding the fundamentals of cooking: how salt, fat, acid, and heat work together. I’m more likely to create another good meal as I get better at cooking.

Systems thinking compounds your knowledge over time.

My friend recommended I invest in Alibaba. The stock price went up 30%. Based on the outcome, I might think to myself “he made me a winner last time, so I’ll take his advice again.” But with a systems mindset, I go deeper with questions like:

  • Why did he recommend that particular stock at the time he did?
  • What happened in the market to make the stock pop 30%?

He could of just been lucky. Maybe next time I’ll lose money if I take his advice unquestioned. Or, I can analyze the thoughts behind the decision to invest in Alibaba, while gaining a better understanding of how political and economic forces influence markets.

Systems thinking becomes more valuable as the stakes get higher.

When a marketing campaign delivers a positive result, perhaps it's because the call-to-action is strong, or, maybe it's sheer luck. Before launching the same kind of campaign again, which might fail next time, I’ll first ask myself:

  • What was the process we used to arrive at the decision to launch that kind of campaign?
  • Who was involved in the process and what data did they have?

Systems thinking improves decision-making over time, creating more consistent results.

Practice by asking yourself metalevel questions, such as “why did we arrive at that decision?” Keep asking why, and at the risk of sounding weird, try to literally ask questions out loud. Tap into the value of systems theory by zooming out and seeing how all the individual parts, including ideas and decisions, connect and affect each other.

Systems thinking helps you see the bigger picture, the forest through the trees.

Practice by listening actively. Asking questions gets you 75% of the way there. The other 25% comes from putting conscious effort into “listening” to your thought responses. Listen actively by identifying cognitive biases that create blindspots and prevent you from seeing the full system/picture. For example, don’t only listen to thoughts that confirm your current viewpoint: Confirmation bias prevents us from learning and hinders the decision-making process. Actively listen for thoughts that challenge your assumptions.

Analyze not only the outcome, but also the decision-making process and how the “ingredients” in the system affected each other, for both positive and negative results.

Because systems thinking makes you a winner—even when you fail.

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