POSIWID or is it?

As the name suggests I am a big fan of the POSIWID concept. It makes sense in a Forrest Gump kinda way (purpose is as purpose does). It is also a great way of understanding organisational failure, often driven by inappropriate performance management which drives behaviour towards one purpose when the stated organisational purpose is something quite different. You know, such as the classic call centre management guff around “we value our customers” and rather than actually measuring value provided to customers they measure how quickly staff finish calls – which is about operational efficiency and not customer value! #facepalm.

So here I am loving POSIWID and then I came across something different. I found another way of exploring purpose. This time as an emergent property of the relationship between the system and its environment. The concept of structural coupling is not new but it is worth further consideration…
Structural coupling is a term devised by Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela to explain the organisational processes that sustain living systems. It reflects the co-relationship of different organisms that emerges over time.   In short it is about how purpose evolves over time. 

To give a simple example:

My bike + me represents a system for a pleasurable commute by means of cycling from home to work each day

But one day it rains (I know, it happens!). The ride is less pleasurable but it is still a commute to work. Slightly different purpose.

Then another day I see Bikey McBikeface the local cycling hero going in the same direction so I decide to race him. Now my commute has a new dimension which includes cycling faster than Mr McBikeface, or at least trying to. Again a slightly different purpose.

Then another day I ride my bike to go to the shops rather than work. A different purpose altogether but the same core system elements. 

This is the coupling part of the relationship. The bit which determines changes to purpose through the relationship. 

The structural part suggests there are limits to those possible changes which are restricted due to the structure of my system. This means my bike + me will not suddenly by able to fly to work (although that would be cool) as that is not a capability of the system in its current form.

The point is that purpose evolves over time as a result of the interactions and exchanges with the surrounding environment. Therefore this suggests that the purpose of a system is not simply what it does right now but something which can and does adapt overtime in relation to context. 

This doesn’t make POSIWID wrong. It is simply insufficient for taking a more holistic view of purpose over time.  I am not going to change my name. But I will feel very insufficient for a few days.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

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Systems thinking just sounds so dull… Time for a rebrand

I was watching the excellent Parks and Recreation the other day, it was the episode where they rebranded water. It got me thinking….

This systems thinking malarkey is great and many of us systems thinking fans swear by it. But outside the clique it is quite misunderstood and few people get it. Maybe we secretly want to keep it way and maybe we enjoy the special sense of wisdom in thinking “if only they did systems thinking, they would realise how daft they really are”. Maybe, just maybe, systems thinking needs a makeover. Maybe systems thinking needs a funkier image and a better name. 

There I said it. I lit the touch paper and now I better stand back. ‘Wait’ you shout, ‘systems thinking is for thinking about systems and about systems for thinking, so what else could we call it?’. Well, good point, but it’s still a teensy bit insular. 

What does systems thinking help you do? How does it make a difference? In marketing terms what is its value proposition? Answers will vary. For me systems thinking does several key things:

  1. It opens your mind to different perspectives
  2. It deals with complexity and interdependencies over time
  3. It focuses on purpose and how purpose emerges
  4. It helps you consider the boundaries of your thinking and become aware of choices (intentional or otherwise)

Firstly, ‘perspective, complexity, purpose, boundary thinking’ is even worse as a title than systems thinking. Secondly whilst systems thinking can be all these things it does not have to be all at the same time. So, let’s just consider perspectives for a moment and hold off the other features for now. 

In the spirit of POSIWID, this thing formally known as systems thinking, helps us to understand the thinking in others, it can give some insight into their world view and it enables us to bring their perspectives into our designs for the things we do (I am so trying to avoid saying the S word). And who are our key stakeholders? Our service users, our patients, our students, our residents. In short our customers.

Ladies and gentleman I give you “customer thinking”: see the world from your customers point of view, align your purpose with the only ones who truly matter, deliver outstanding value with customer thinking at the heart of what you do.

What’s not to like?

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. This is exactly what I am going to try and do. I’ll let you know how it goes.