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.



  1. Stefan Norrvall · June 10, 2016

    I’m not suggesting that the multiple customer perspectives are not important, they can of course have a huge impact on how we think about work and work design. If, however, you want to take a systemic view don’t you also need to the perspectives of the other stakeholders in the system? Focusing in on only element seems more like reductionism and not systems thinking.


    • posiwid4me · June 10, 2016

      Fair point, and thanks for keeping me honest. This was a case of write first, think later.
      In context, this arose out of a conversation on how to create curiosity amongst colleagues for the joy of systems thinking. So I think there is value in using customer thinking as a dimension of what systems thinking can do, as a hook to gain initial interest, but I agree it is a single and narrow component of the whole.


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