The problem with ‘systems thinking’ is, well, thinking about the system. It is a trap to envision creation as a set of processes, steps, or mechanisms that need to be ‘figured out’. It typically results in either building predictable, yet uninspiring, solutions for known problems (clocks[1]), or ineffectively searching by trial and error for solutions to unknown problems (clouds[1]).

We should set aside “the system” and “thinking” entirely. Instead, focus on a moment in time after the system has already been used and ask what is required to bring about positive emotional outcomes for the participants. This is a different type of labor, one Seth Godin in his book Linchpin describes as “emotional labor” (read about or read on Seth’s blog or one-minute video). I refer to it more generally as just empathy.

It is effective because it allows us to directly envision what will delight and fulfill the emotional needs and wants that truly drive human behavior and satisfaction. It also liberates us creatively because we temporarily remove any focus on the constraints of what the mind believes is possible in the construction of any system.

If we start by this process of “empathetic visioning”, then the subsequent use of systems thinking is done with a clear knowledge of the set of outcomes that must be produced to support the vision. In my experience thus far (it forms the basis of Feature TDD), this reduces system problems to either trivial concerns or makes them well suited to solving by traditional analytical creativity.

[1] From Karl Popper, I was recently introduced to the concept by my father who sent me a link to Gaurav Mishra’s interesting post on applying clocks or cloud to social media.

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