The Dead Language of Systems ThinkingBy
This year as a result of Dr. Deming, I had decided to dig into Systems Thinking more. I re-read The Fifth Discipline, which had been my introduction into Lean and Six Sigma. Being a business owner, I did not have a problem looking at the whole or as it later became known as viewing the entire value stream. However, Systems Thinking through its theory is quite useful, in practically it served little purpose. I gravitated towards Lean and Theory of Constraints.
After starting this year with renewed energy for System Thinking, re-reading many old books and even dusting off some casual loop material, I started reaching out for the latest and greatest. My initial path took me through Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges by Otto Scharmer and Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society by Peter Senge, amazingly similar to CAP Do as explained by Joiner and Akao. This thought is being captured in what I call the Lean Marketing Conversation. Still working on that, as it coincides with the principles of Service Dominant Logic and the way I believe how value is created. Or I might say, co-created.
The next step of my journey took me towards some mapping where it can be done in clusters and around conversations. Which again solidifies the idea of the sales and marketing conversation and how it is dispersed between organizations. I am just about as excited as you can be, about research, and ready to take the deeper dive into Systems Thinking. What I need is human interaction to solidify my theory and see how practitioners are using this material.
I link up with a few System Thinkers and join several Systems Thinking Groups on LinkedIn and started monitoring a few of the conversations. I was uninspired by most conversations. It seemed that Systems Thinkers were more worried about solving world hunger and telling everyone how it should be done from the 20K level. It was practically all theory. Finally, a question was asked how Systems Thinking and Lean are related. I wait for a few answers and chimed in when someone says Lean is just a set of tools. I say that is not so true even though Lean has a great toolbox, it is a little more than that.
It was explained by more than one that Lean is a set of tools. I ask for a little evidence, and I am referred to 1986 Womack and Jones. I mention that, yes it favored the tools in 90s, but that was the age of process methodologies. I was asked for more evidence, and I mention that if you look at how Lean has matured through the years, or better yet observing just the progression from the original Toyota Way book (basically a tool book) to the Toyota Way material of today, you can see the progression of Lean. I ask how Systems Thinking has progressed and could someone name an organization that would call themselves a Systems Thinking Company. The reply was that everything was a system and that they deal in the social…blah blah world. I am given a link to a page to explain everything. The central theme of the page to include an outline was a value map, a tool. I asked why a tool was chosen to explain Systems Thinking.
The funny part was the moderator commented on how myopic this conversation was etc. I apologized and just said that I was there to learn about Systems Thinking and hoped I could still do so. After the moderator participates in the thread, there was a flood of others that joined in and the conversation was civil for a while till the original Lean bashing returned. I even read that Dr. Deming held an isolated view of Systems Thinking. I finally left the group and un-Linked a few contacts from my profile. The group seems highly knowledgeable, but they came across to me as an elitist group protecting their territory.
I bash Lean for being to supply-side orientated all the time. I bash Lean for being tool-happy. I can understand others doing it and thinking that way. What I could not accept in the conversation was the elitism that occurred and the failure to be willing to discuss the original question, the similarities. Instead, it continued as another onslaught of what I have called Lean bashing. I left the conversation and the group.
In summary, I believe that all systems are very similar. The difference from DMAIC to PDCA to Casual Loops are not all that different. The difference is the path we take to get there and the people we align ourselves with to accomplish it. It is a shame we spend so much time bashing the other methods. Lean happens to be a popular business model at this time. For Systems Thinkers to say that it is a tool box, it appears to me that they are internalized in their own thinking. They even cited ASQ as adding Systems Thinking to the Lean body of knowledge. What they failed to realize, it was being added to the Lean body of knowledge, not the other way around.
I left thinking that Systems Thinking may be a dead language. It is seldom spoken in business and only a few study it. It may be the basis and important part of how we must view things, but it has been swallowed up in the dialect of other methodologies. It reminds of the Latin language. Latin is an important part of most Mediterranean languages, but it is not spoken. Its usefulness has passed.