On a crowded loop station this morning I notice a regular looking middle-class man in his late thirties, standing to the side of the crowd on the station platform, tentatively reaching into the yellow recycle bin to retrieve a mint condition daily newspaper, probably discarded by a fellow traveler minutes earlier. No regular scavenger, his down-turned eyes and the furtiveness of his stance convey a sense of the stigma that society holds for what should be a perfectly rational and sensible act — reusing something that is at hand rather than buying his own.
For a method that purports to tackle real-world problems, practical examples of systems thinking in action are elusive. Refreshing, then, to read a special edition of the Cornell Policy Review on systems thinking, which presents accounts of the systems thinking craft in a readable and digestible form. In the interests of better policy, Cornell Institute for Public Affairs Fellow Harrison Speck makes some headway in understanding the question of why child protection case workers in Texas do not always stay long in their jobs (paper and video).
Systems thinking is on to something. There’s something there. It harbors truths that conventional business and organisational perspectives miss. It is easy to get this impression from the volumes of social media, literature and management debate it continues to sustain after three decades. But systems thinking as a discipline or body of knowledge does not make it easy to get to those insights and truths. Ways to penetrate the systems thinking morass are neither obvious or accessible.
Even with the best and most complete of models and frameworks, the practice of Enterprise Architecture (EA) in organisations isn’t always effective. Analysis does not always explain everything that happens, and changes that Enterprise Architects (EAs) make do not always deliver the expected benefits. When EA does not deliver value as expected, or when it cannot be represented as a transparent cause and effect relationship, some EA defenders draw our attention to long delays in the enterprise’s adoption of information technology. In light of this, EA should be thought of as an investment against things that might otherwise go wrong — kind of like a ‘flu shot for 2025. Other apologists blame flaws in the EA frameworks and methods used, or in the way that they are used.
It seems that certain verbs are becoming nouns, for no particular reason that I can see based in grammar, semantics or the logic of language. This appears to be a recent phenomena, and in a few cases, nounification has propelled these lucky innocuous verbs into the noun stratosphere. The first is the innocent little doer-word ‘reveal’.
verb1.make (previously unknown or secret information) known to others.
Every business case for a new IT system must identify and argue for resulting benefits. Benefits management is a well-established competency for ensuring benefits are identified, quantified, tracked and realised. Realised benefits justify the initial investment. Victoria’s State Treasury, which funds some very large IT projects, including a number that have gone off the rails has started providing much-needed guidance on identifying and planning for anticipated system benefits. In light of continuing problems with large public sector IT projects (Queensland Health payroll system, Victoria’s licensing system) this is important capability-building.
Political, social and economic problems amenable to the application of ‘systems thinking‘ are all around us. Take the Australian Prime Minister’s latest solution to the seemingly insoluble ‘boat people’ dilemma. ‘Boat people’ are refugees fleeing central or south east Asia who make their way to Indonesia, purchase passage from a ‘people smuggler’ to Australia on a leaky boat, only to find that the tub starts to take water somewhere near Christmas Island. What typically plays out next is a media-driven frenzy of political posturing and talk-back vitriol, while the Australian Navy scoops up the survivors and deposits them in a remote detention centre.