How systems thinking enhances systems leadership

By Catherine Hobbs and Gerald Midgley

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1. Catherine Hobbs (biography)
2. Gerald Midgley (biography)

Systems leadership involves organisations, including governments, collaborating to address complex issues and achieve necessary systemic transformations. So, if this is the case, how can systems leadership be helped by systems thinking?

Systems leadership is concerned with facilitating innovation by bringing together a network of organisations. These then collaborate between themselves and with other stakeholders to deliver some kind of service, influence a policy outcome or develop a product that couldn’t have been achieved by any one of the organisations working alone.

Recognising that a network of organisations can achieve something that emerges from their interactions involves a certain amount of implicit systems thinking. After all, the classic definition of a ‘system’ is an identifiable collection of two or more parts that has properties, or achieves outcomes, that can only be attributed to all of the parts interacting, not any one of the parts in isolation.

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Critical Back-Casting

By Gerald Midgley

gerald-midgley
Gerald Midgley (biography)

How can we design new services or strategies when the participation of marginalized stakeholders is vital to ethicality? How can we liberate people’s creativity so we can move from incremental improvements to more fundamental change?

To answer these questions, I have brought together insights from Russ Ackoff and Werner Ulrich to develop a new method that I call Critical Back-Casting.

Russ Ackoff, writing in the 1980s, is critical of organizations that focus on incremental improvements without ever asking whether they are doing the right thing in the first place. Thus, they are at risk of continually ‘improving’ the wrong thing, when they would be better off going for a more radical redesign. Ackoff makes two far-reaching prescriptions to tackle this problem.

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Co-creation without systems thinking can be dangerous

By Gerald Midgley

gerald-midgley
Gerald Midgley (biography)

Why does the theory and practice of co-creation need to be informed by systems thinking? Co-creation without a thorough understanding of systems thinking can be deeply problematic. Essentially, we need a theory and practice of systemic co-creation.

Three key things happen in any co-creation:

  1. It is necessary for a diversity of perspectives to engage.
  2. There is the synergistic innovation that results from this engagement.
  3. The innovation is meaningful in a context of use.

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