ASK PH: How to Start Thinking in Terms of Systems

Hi Personality Hacker,

What are a couple of good questions I can ask myself to see if I am thinking in terms of systems instead of cause and effect? –JON


Dear JON,

Thanks for the question. These are the questions I use to force myself to think in terms of Systems:

  • What are at least three things impacting the outcome?
  • Are they highly or mildly influential?
  • If they’re mildly influential, what am I not seeing that is more influential?
  • What are the relationships each of these three things have with each other?
  • If I were to change this system (by changing one of the three things) what else outside of the system would be impacted?

The technical term for these influencers is ‘nodes.’ Nodes are the elements that impact the entire system. The outcome is technically called the ‘inevitable emergent’ – meaning, with the system running the way it is, no other result could possibly happen.

Most of Systems Thinking is reverse engineering an emergent into nodes and then tracing everything related to those nodes. Remember, each node itself is the emergent of its own system. As in, my eyes are a node in the system of my senses, but there’s an entire system making my eyes able to see or not see. And my eyes are connected to other parts of my body, so if I monkey with my ocular system, it very likely to affect something else seemingly unrelated.

For more information on Systems Thinking, check out these resources:

Systems Thinking: A Boring Name For A Game-Changing Reframe

Systems Thinking & The Illusion of Cause and Effect

Systems Thinking In Relationships


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