Systems Thinking Exercise


Stop X-bar/R Madness!!
One of the examples I use when training in systems thinking, and the concept of the effect of interrelationships is this simple exercise:

Here is the scenario:

You are standing in front of the sink in your bathroom at home. You have a tissue that you wish to discard. You have a decision: You can either throw it into the wastebasket or flush it down the toilet.

What can you write down about this decision? It seems like a very benign choice, and most people at this point do not have much to say.

The first step is to describe how the decision can affect you.
Those points are included in the upper portion of the attached cart.

The next step is to describe how the decision affects the rest of the world around you - not only those you directly affect, but those beyond you. To do this the flows from you to the endpoint are mapped out. Along the flows all of the people and materials (essentially the fishbone of each action) that make the action happen are added. That includes all of the "overhead" - management, unions, accounting, purchasing, taxes, government, etc. Once that is developed, you look at the decision and see who will benefit from the choice, and who will not benefit from not being chosen.

For this particular choice, it is also noted that the wastebasket choice heavily supports the fuel industry, where the flush choice supports the electric industry. You can see how an electric company may try to influence one to flush their tissue instead of throwing it away.

After going through the exercise (it is given blank, and the participants help fill it out), I ask how much one can write about the decision - and it becomes much longer with the additional thought processes, based on systems thinking.

(This is my original copyrighted material, so if you chose to use it, that is ok, but please acknowledge the source).

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