Systems Thinkers & Hip Hop be like…

It has come to my attention that Hip Hop and systems thinking has more parallels that you might at first think. On reviewing several hip hop phrases and lyrics I discovered a significant leaning towards systems thinking in the lingo of the rapper. Such that I may never look at Hip Hop or systems thinking in the same way again. Let me explain…

Here are some key phrases which show the level of systems thinking prevalent in Hip Hop culture:

  1.  “I got mad knowledge of self” (Us3)

This is a clear reference to the philosophical nature of true systems thinking. It is recognition of the role of the thinker in thinking about a situation and demonstrates critical self-awareness of the relational dynamic between a practitioner, methods/tools and a problem situation

2. “You better check yo’ self before you wreck yo’ self” (Ice Cube)

Here, Cube (1992) has identified the importance of double-loop learning as a systemic intervention to overcome destructive implications of single loop thinking. This shows a second order level of awareness common to many soft and critical systems approaches.

3. “You gotta…fight the powers that be” (Public Enemy)

Capturing the spirit of Seddon, D & Flav (1990) are articulating the Hip Hop equivalent of ‘Freedom from Command and Control’

    4. “In Da Club” (50 Cent)

Referencing the often specialist nature of systems thinking groups, Cent (2003) is identifying the club-like mentality of those in the know vs non-systems thinkers.

    5. “Droppin’ science” (Marley Marl)

Marl (1998) recognises the importance of using scientific data models to provide robust underpinning to systems thinking in order to bring together both multiple perspectives and complex interdependencies to support effective systemic thinking about complex situations.

    6. “Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head. It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under” (Grandmaster Flash)

An early recognition of the existential angst of being a systems thinker in a world of command & control. Flash (1982) uses metaphor to reach out to other systems thinkers and highlight the mental anguish of being one of the only ones who can see things differently

7. “Haters gonna hate” Captain Chunk

This time a more recent reflection by Chunk (2013) on the ongoing challenges faced by systems thinkers. This suggests that over time, despite many attempts to enter the mainstream, systems thinking remains a minority interest, very much like Hip Hop.

    8. “I’m down with OPP*” (Naughty by Nature)

*Other Peoples Plans/Projects. In reference once again to the psychological turmoil of trying to be true to systems thinking approaches whilst operating in a command and control environment with all its plans and projects and what not.

 So there you have it. Proof that systems thinking and Hip Hop have coalesced and become one. And what’s more not only does Hip Hop show signs of systems thinking it works both ways.

Just ask Ol’ Dirty Ackoff, Snoop Doggy Deming or MC Seddon. As the famous system saying goes  “I got 94% of problems in business as systems driven and a b*tch ain’t one!”

(* Batch as in the classic batch vs flow debate. What did you think it meant?)


So props to my crew. I am going back to my crib to bust a cap. Word!

(Thanks for reading, my systems thinking chums. I am off to my study to think systemically about some problematic situations. Toodle-pip!)










One comment

  1. plexity · October 31, 2016

    You may not be aware of this seminal work:

    By this deep thinker:

    I made a presentation based on his work at the annual Learning Company conference in 1999, I think it was, when I was running the Organisational Learning project at the then LGMB.

    We explored the nature of creativity and transgression and the concept of the wrench as an enabling tool.


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