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We had the Machine Age – where much was mechanized and we divided things into their smallest parts for analysis and problem solving. We thought we could control and model everything. However, logical models can’t predict human behavior.
We now live in the Systems Age, where the world is defined by relationships, networks, interdependencies and emergent properties, rather than by predictable, machine-like mechanisms. The Systems Age emphasizes the importance of seeing the “whole”.
To shift from thinking in a Machine Age mode to a Systems Thinking approach requires us to let go of our old ways and take on new, more effective ways of thinking. We must shift the old paradigms and discover new ways of making sense.
To fully embrace the Systems Age each of us must be willing to:
Go beyond our own borders and rules. We must question our automatic reactions and determine if these rules and boundaries still serve us. The assumptions that worked in the past may not be appropriate for the Systems Age. “That’s not my job” attitudes don’t work in a fast-moving, team-based system where we are all responsible for the outputs TOGETHER.
Break the rules of past success. Don’t wait until they are broken. In the past, you were rewarded for following the chain of command, in the Systems Age, go around bureaucracy to quickly find the superior solution for your customer. Question why we need to do things a certain way.
Develop new reading habits. Suspend your judgment. We often read to confirm what we already know, instead be inquisitive about new ideas. Don’t quickly dismiss a new concept, instead think about how it could be applied to your job. Consider the conditions under which it could be successful.
Be ready for failure. In the Systems Age, you will be testing new solutions and models more rapidly than before. Failure is expected, and good, as long as you learn from your failures. I call this “failing forward” – make a mistake, learn from it, test the updated version. From failure springs the seeds of future success!
Actively listen to others. We usually listen to others only long enough to form our rebuttal. However, in the Systems Age we will learn from people at all levels of the organization, as well as, from outside. Listen, listen, listen! Ask questions, be interested, assume they know things that you don’t know.
We have to move from unconscious actions of the Machine Age to conscious application of Systems Thinking to survive in the Systems Age.
Interested in being more successful in the Systems Age? I coach leaders & teams, especially those with technical backgrounds, in Systems Thinking and other ways to improve leadership skills. Contact me Valerie.MacLeod@HainesCentre.com
For more on Systems Thinking: Everything you wanted to know about Systems Thinking but were afraid to ask, Systems Thinking isn’t just for business or just for adults!, and 3 Characteristics of Systems Leadership
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