5/100 Things – Nurture a systems perspective

“Your course ‘Public Humanities Institutions: A Systems Perspective’ was unlike any other class that I have ever taken in my academic career… Now that my first semester of graduate school is coming to an end, I am realizing how I have started to apply the idea of “systems” to every aspect of my life…

“The idea that no person or organization is a stand-alone entity seems rather obvious. However, the extent to which a person is connected in a system can be much greater than one thinks. This was definitely one of the most important things I learned early on in this course. It is now something that I think about often…”

— Reina

As a teacher, it is always incredibly rewarding to hear back from a student  that they have found meaning and value in your courses. I always learn from my students — which is why I enjoy teaching (despite all those papers I have to review).

Poet John Donne may have coined the words “No man is an island, entire of itself” more than a half millenium ago, but I interact with too many nonprofit board members who haven’t discovered the power of systems thinking that Reina experienced in just a few weeks.

Each of us, both individually and within organizations are parts of larger systems – think “ecosysem” – that span both the natural systems which supply our water, air and food and also the global web of people, organizational, family and business systems.

How can you apply systems thinking to your organization?

You can start by becoming incredibly curious about the world around you. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What outside forces affect the people we serve? How?
  • What outside forces influence our organizational effectiveness?
  • What is happening to those spheres to which we are intricately connected and how would/could that affect the way we work now and in the future?
  • What about inside our organization? What is happening here? How do all the parts connect?
  • What are the assumptions or “mental models” we carry in our heads? Are they shared throughout our organization? What would we do differently if we saw things from a different perspective?

You can use free or low cost software to make “mind maps” that help you trace how these systems work. You can find a list on Wikipedia to get you started at  http://tinyurl.com/25eq9p

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