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Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact and Applied Systems THINKING

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Chris Soderquist, Pontifex Consulting
Craig Weber, The Weber Consulting Group

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Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact and Applied Systems THINKING

  1. 1. Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact September 25, 2016 Adaptive Learning Pivotal Skills for Collective Impact Craig Weber and Chris Soderquist Communities around the globe face an expanding range of tough, interconnected, complex problems: poverty, racism, violence, police and community tensions, environment degradation, access to education, obesity, mental illness, climate change, and health inequity, just to name a few. These problems—and many others like them—are what we refer to as adaptive challenges. What do we mean by that? Here’s a brief description: All our difficulties fall somewhere on a spectrum; at one end of this spectrum we find routine problems, and, at the other end, adaptive challenges. A routine problem isn’t considered routine because it happens regularly, but because we have a routine for dealing with it—a protocol, a process, or expert on which we can depend for a reliable fix. A routine problem may be irksome and expensive, but at least we’re in familiar territory and know what to do about it. When we’re facing an adaptive challenge, on the other hand, we’re off the familiar trail in uncharted territory where there are no proven routines, protocols, solutions, or experts. To successfully negotiate an adaptive challenge we must work and learn with others to navigate the alien terrain. All the problems we face in life fall somewhere between these two distinct poles. . . it’s more important than ever to recognize the distinction between routine and adaptive issues because they each require a profoundly different
  2. 2. Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact September 25, 2016 problem solving approach. For a routine problem a bias for action is appropriate. We have a routine, we know what to do, so as Nike suggests, we should “just do it.” But for an adaptive challenge—where there is no clear routine, no proven process, and no ready expert who can save the day—a bias for learning is essential. Why? To navigate our way over unfamiliar ground we must roll up our cognitive sleeves and work with others to figure out the best way forward. We must orchestrate, in other words, a process of adaptive learning. 1 If they’re to effectively resolve adaptive challenges, communities must do just that— orchestrate a process of learning—and success hinges on how well they can encourage a diverse set of interest groups to honestly share and learn from their contrasting and sometimes competing perspectives. This work can get messy. Collective Impact is a process that has been developed to help guide communities and networks through such “messy,” adaptive learning processes. In their article, Collective Impact, Kania and Kramer make this point: “Reforming public education, restoring wetland environments, and improving community health are all adaptive problems. In these cases, reaching an effective solution requires learning by the stakeholders involved in the problem, who must then change their own behavior in order to create a solution.”2 If implemented effectively, Collective Impact has the potential to produce an agile process of learning. But in far too many cases it fails to live up to this potential because the process bogs down and loses momentum. Many of its once passionate leaders become disillusioned and drop out of the process. These are almost universally smart, passionate, committed people, so what’s going on here. Why does this happen? It happens because simply understanding these challenges isn’t enough. Collective Impact requires powerful new mindsets and skills to be effective, once the laborious task of choosing a path forward has been accomplished. Here’s a way to think about the need for specific skills that support a strategy. Running a Collective Impact process can be compared to running a complex play in basketball. A team may have a strategy for how to execute a perfect triangle offense, for example, but their strategy is useless if the players don’t know how to pass, dribble, and shoot. Their strategy is nothing more than a pipedream if they lack the basic skills necessary for playing the 1 http://www.weberconsultinggroup.net/leaning-into-difference-the-key-to-solving-tough- problems/ 2 Kania, J. & Kramer, M., Collective Impact, Social Innovation Review (2011) “Just as there are fundamental skills needed to run complex plays in basketball, there is a set of adaptive learning skills needed to run an effective Collective Impact process.”
  3. 3. Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact September 25, 2016 game. We think the same thing often happens in Collective Impact efforts. Communities have a process and a strategy, and they have smart, passionate people, but they’re lacking basic skills to put their smarts, passion, and strategy into useful play. Just as there are fundamental skills needed to run complex plays in basketball, there is a set of adaptive learning skills needed to run an effective Collective Impact process. So what are these skills? We think there are three essential and interrelated competencies for adaptive leadership and learning: systems THINKING, Conversational Capacity, and Improvisational Learning. These three enabling competencies help you find the leverage needed for fundamental improvement, by accelerating a process of learning in which community members engage in rigorous and balanced conversations about highly emotional topics. Put differently, adaptive learning skills help people and communities learn faster, smarter, and together. 1. Systems THINKING Systems THINKING is essential for identifying high leverage places to intervene. With limited time and resources, it helps communities identify changes that provoke the most profound and sustainable improvements. Low leverage occurs when you fight the “physics” of the system, when the more you push it to change, the more it pushes back. High leverage occurs when you work with the laws of physics. Low leverage also occurs when today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions because you failed to predict unintended consequences. High leverage occurs when you identify the fulcrum of a problem and design your intervention around it. Low leverage activities, on the other hand can even hinder you when performance has been improved—when your improvements are limited relative to the amount of effort applied to the problem. Identifying and exploiting places of high leverage fundamentally improves the way the system behaves, generating the optimal behavior you desire. This high leverage competency is referred to as systems THINKING. Thinking is capitalized because this type of systems thinking emphasizes how we think about systemic issues instead of adopting the overly simplistic (and mostly unhelpful) perspective that “it’s all complex and connected.” At its core, systems THINKING is based on a foundational principle: Behavior is generated by structure. How we’ve “structured” our resources, organizations, and communities is generating the behaviors we like and those we don’t. If we’re to create the future we’ve envisioned, we’ll need to understand how we’ve
  4. 4. Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact September 25, 2016 structured things and how we’ll have to change that structure to produce the behaviors we want. The mindset required for systems THINKING is an unwavering commitment to understanding the whole set of relationships (structure) that drive important “real world” behaviors. We assume we’ve been using boundaries that are too narrow to understand the problem, focusing on our little part of the system— our silo (e.g. education, health, public safety, etc.)—as if it’s the most important. It also assumes we’ve not been thinking hard enough about how the world “really works”, by overlooking time delays, vicious cycles (and other feedback loop behavior), and unintended consequences. The skills of systems THINKING provide a rigorous way to frame issues, broaden and deepen your understanding, map out assumptions about cause and effect, and focus on the issues that really matter -- making sense of the system, in effect, so you can actually see it. This is critical. If you can’t see the system you’re trying to improve there is no way to identify the best ways to make constructive change. Systems THINKING makes you stronger and smarter. It takes you from a place of being stuck as a reactive, “woe is me,” victim of circumstance, to a place where you have the wisdom and confidence to intervene in ways that make a profound difference.3 3 For more information about Systems THINKING, visit http://findinghighleverage.com/ The resources page includes a link to the following video: https://vimeo.com/122034667
  5. 5. Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact September 25, 2016 2. Conversational Capacity4 In our world of mounting complexity and change, building organizations, teams, and projects that work well under pressure is more important than ever. But while it’s easy to put together a team that works when facing simple problems, building a team that performs when things get tough remains an elusive and frustrating task. The reason, according to Craig Weber, is that traditional team building overlooks the most important piece of the puzzle. That missing piece is conversational capacity—a team’s ability to have open, balanced, learning-focused dialogue about difficult subjects, in challenging circumstances, and across tough boundaries. A group with high conversational capacity can perform well, remaining on track even when dealing with their most troublesome issues. A group lacking that capacity, by contrast, can see their performance derail over a minor difference of opinion. In this sense, conversational capacity isn’t just another aspect of effective teamwork—it defines it. A team that cannot talk about its most pressing issues isn’t really a team at all—it’s just a group of people that can’t work together effectively when it counts. This is a critical competence for a successful Collective Impact process that requires people to communicate and collaborate about tough issues and across challenging boundaries. Sounds simple, right? All a team has to do is boost its conversational capacity and all will be well. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. In the quest to build capacity we face a formidable obstacle: human nature. It turns out that reliably effective teams are hard to build because primal aspects of our nature, rooted in the powerful fight-flight response, actually work against teamwork. Fortunately, there’s hope. There’s a proven discipline—a veritable conversational martial art—that allows people and their teams to remain open, balanced, and learning-focused as they tackle their most troublesome issues. Armed with this discipline, communities, organizations, and teams can respond to tough challenges with greater agility and skill, performing brilliantly in circumstances that incapacitate less disciplined teams. 4 Weber, Craig. Conversational Capacity, McGraw-Hill, 2013
  6. 6. Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact September 25, 2016 3. “Yes To The Mess” Learning (aka Agile Learning) Agile learning—which is often associated with software development—can most easily be understood as the skill of improvisation. Two key aspects of the improvisational mindset are particularly useful for Collective Impact work: an affirmative bias, and a “learn as you go” approach. Our friend and colleague Frank Barrett, author of the wonderful book Yes To The Mess, explains this better than anyone: Managers frequently find themselves in the middle of messes not of their own making, in over their heads, having to take action even though there is no guarantee of a good outcome, and relying on imperfect information. Jazz players face the same issues, but what makes it possible to improvise, to adjust and fall upon a working strategy is an affirmative move, an implicit ‘yes’ that allows them to move forward even in the midst of uncertainty. Problem solving by itself will not generate novel solutions. What’s needed is an affirmative belief that a solution exists and that something positive will emerge. 5 The improvisational mindset assumes that no matter how messy, how difficult, or how confusing the current predicament, there is always a creative and constructive path forward. At its core, the improvisational process stems from an affirmative mindset. But in addition to an affirmative bias, other essential skills of improvisation are rapid experimentation and embracing errors. This approach reflects the observation of Kurt Lewin who noted that the best way to learn about any system is to try and change it. Rather than sitting back and waiting to intervene until all the necessary information is available, you get to work with the best information available and then learn as you go. An Über Competency Without these three competencies a group will almost always underperform, especially when it’s facing an adaptive challenge. They combine to form an über competence—a meta-skill—that turbocharges the effectiveness of a person, team, organization, or community. Systems THINKING can help a group identify the high leverage actions that will spark the most constructive change, 5 Barrett, Frank. Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz, Harvard Business Press Books, 2012
  7. 7. Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact September 25, 2016 Conversational Capacity enables a group of smart people to work smart by balancing candor and courage and curiosity and humility under pressure, and Agile Learning helps people work in more open, flexible, experimental ways in situations where rapid learning is the key to progress. Together these competencies empower people and groups to come together to tackle their most pressing issues in a more focused and cogent way. We’ve compared these competencies to the skills needed to play music, a sport, or other similar endeavors. But they’re more than that. They’re the skills needed to excel at these activities. What distinguished basketball players like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson from their peers wasn’t just their skills at dribbling, passing and shooting—it was their über ability to see the full court and imagine how things were playing out, their ability to selflessly pass the ball and to work with all players on the team, and their ability to turn a broken play into a basket. The same thing is true of jazz. “The model of jazz musicians improvising collectively offers a clear and powerful example of how people and teams can coordinate, be productive, and create amazing innovations without so many of the control levers that managers relied on in the industrial age,” says Barrett. “An improvisation model of organizing creates a kind of openness, an invitation to possibility, rather than leaning toward a narrowness of control.”6 This is why the interrelated skills of Systems THINKING, Conversational Capacity, and Improvisational Learning are so important to Collective Impact endeavors. Ensuring the process performs at its potential requires building and using the adaptive- learning skills we’ve just described. They’ll not only help you make the constructive changes you’re seeking, they’ll also help you build an even more connected, resilient, and learning-focused community. 6 Barrett, Frank. Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz, Harvard Business Press Books, 2012. Pgs. xiv-xv “These competencies empower people and groups to come together to tackle their most pressing issues in a more focused and cogent way.”
  8. 8. Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact Adaptive Learning for Collective Impact September 25, 2016 CONTACT INFORMATION Chris Soderquist Pontifex Consulting chris@findinghighleverage.com findinghighleverage.com Craig Weber The Weber Consulting Group weberconsulting@earthlink.net weberconsultinggroup.net
  9. 9. Applied Systems THINKING Behavior Over Time Graphs – Types and Tips Behavior Over Time Graphs (aka Trend Graphs) Purpose Developing Behavior Over Time Graphs (BOTGs) expands the field of vision being applied to an issue. The activity of expanding the field of vision facilitates the causal thinking (why is this behavior happening?) required to take a systems view. The systems view creates an opportunity to find leverage for improvement. • A BOTG is a graph over time that captures the essence of a problem or issue of interest. • BOTGs often contain a historical (“as is”) component as well as a projected (“to be”) component. • In creating a BOTG, it is often helpful to normalize (e.g. average, %, outcome/ patient) the variable. • The unit of time (day, month, quarter, year, etc.) for the BOTG helps to set a temporal boundary for what to include in your analysis 1 © 2017 Pontifex Consulting Graduation rates months years “As Is” “To Be” Now% population requiring Medicaid
  10. 10. Applied Systems THINKING Behavior Over Time Graphs – Types and Tips BOTGs – Historical Narrative Graphs Purpose The purpose of Historical Narrative Graphs is to communicate the history / story of issue(s) in visually, compelling and causally-based way. This can be used to help an audience shift from narrow temporal boundaries (event thinking) to broader temporal boundaries…and to shift from reactionary activities to proactive strategies. It facilitates the development of an operational (causal) mental model of the issue. How to… • Select 1 (or more) variable(s) that captures the issue you wish to describe • Normalize if possible (e.g. %s, averages, $/person, output/$) • Draw the trend line(s) • Highlight stories/events… ✴ Times when something happened to cause the issue to get better ✴ External events ✴ Places where interventions were tried ✴ Other 2 © 2017 Pontifex Consulting http://healthblog.ncpa.org/obamacares-effect-on-uninsured-is-trivial/
  11. 11. Applied Systems THINKING Behavior Over Time Graphs – Types and Tips BOTGs – Stakeholder Interest Diagram Purpose The purpose of Stakeholder Interest Diagrams is to understand and communicate the landscape of issues / interests from – and across – a broad constituency. How to… • Map the stakeholder landscape • Determine 1-2 trend over time graphs that “speak to” each group • Speaking to can be… ✴ The pain if the issue continues ✴ The benefit of implementing a proposed solution ✴ Other 3 © 2017 Pontifex Consulting The Big Kahuna Issue Stakeholder Group A Stakeholder Group B Stakeholder Group C Stakeholder Group D
  12. 12. Applied Systems THINKING Behavior Over Time Graphs – Types and Tips BOTGs – Projecting Goals & Initiative Impacts Graph Purpose The purpose of Projecting Goals & Initiative Impacts Graphs is to visualize the different goals and trajectories propose for future interventions How to… • Select 1 (or more) variable(s) that captures the issue you wish to describe • Draw the trend line(s) • Highlight stories/events… ✴ Describe how the intervention is causing the hypothesized future curve ✴ Seriously consider worse before better as one potential future! (or better before worse!) 4 © 2017 Pontifex Consulting 1.Persons A-C all believe the initiative can achieve about a 75% participation rate. However, they disagree dramatically on what will happen to get there. A thinks it will happen quickly and level off, B thinks it’s a steady increase, and C thinks there might be a “worse before better” dynamic 2.Person D thinks it’s impossible to achieve more than 50% and thinks it will happen after about 2 years and level off
  13. 13. Applied Systems THINKING Behavior Over Time Graphs – Types and Tips BOTGs – Leading / Lagging Indicators Graph Purpose The purpose of Leading / Lagging Indicators Graphs is to visualize the trajectories of variables in a way to tell a more “causal story” and identify leading indicators How to… • Select 2 (or more) variables that capture the issue you wish to describe • Draw the trend line(s) • See if you can identify variables that move first, that indicate they are “leading indicators” 5 © 2017 Pontifex Consulting An initial influx of grant funding (budget available) allows the stakeholders to get engaged, the main leading indicator. This then drives ability to attract local “sustaining” funding…the next leading indicator. And ultimately, system performance improves… the lagging indicator.
  14. 14. Applied Systems THINKING The Systems THINKING Questions Overview You can apply the Systems THINKING Mindset to your most important issues. The Mindset improves any process (e.g. strategic planning, process improvement, lean/agile development, and collective impact). It’s not an add-on, something additional to do. It doesn’t require a1 different process than one you’re following; it is an enabling competency to make your chosen process achieve better results. It is particularly helpful in dealing with wicked, complex problems – problems referred to as adaptive challenges.2 Adopting the Systems THINKING Mindset improves your ability (in any activity) to achieve higher leverage impact. Achieving high leverage means: • Fundamentally improving system performance with the minimum investment of resources (time, money, effort) • Avoiding negative unintended consequences • And where possible, simultaneously solving several issues There are four goals (and inquiry behaviors) to the Systems THINKING Mindset • Expand Your Field of Vision • Focus on the Physics • Search for Leverage • Build a Shared, Useful Picture Build a Shared, Useful Picture This element means to move away from making rigid decisions in a vacuum and instead develop understanding through collaborative learning. And to understand that we’ll never have the full, complete truth – it is statistically, scientifically impossible – but will need to constantly adjust our thinking as we learn more about the world. The purpose is to build collective understanding, seeing the same thing. The fundamental question is: How can we learn together – and improve that learning – as rapidly as possible? Expanding Your Field of Vision This element of the ST Mindset moves the focus away from a short term, “what’s in front of us” perspective by recognizing that we’re not getting the full picture, that we may be missing something. Instead, we analyze over expanded ranges of It seems since the beginning of time, organizations become enamored with the process du jour. We’ve seen TQM,1 reengineering, lean engineering, six sigma, and Kotter’s leading change process. In the public sector we have collective impact and emergent strategy. The reason many of these fail to achieve desired improvement isn’t because the process / approach is ineffective, but that those implementing lack a systemic approach to following them. In our experience the missing ingredient is a set of enabling capacities for adaptive learning; one of these capacities includes a Systems THINKING mindset. This document focuses on the application of the Systems THINKING mindset. Adaptive challenges were first described by Ron Heifetz as problems without a clear diagnosis (are messy,2 complex), don’t have a routine or agreed-upon solution, and lack an obvious expert. Refer to Leadership without Easy Answers, Heifetz, R. 1 © 2017
  15. 15. Applied Systems THINKING The Systems THINKING Questions time (longer temporal dimension), and space (broader spatial dimension…e.g. beyond our department, organization, or discipline). Doing so improves our ability to see how this issue relates to issues others may be experiencing. The fundamental question is: What am I missing? Focusing on the Physics This element moves the analysis away from correlational, complex, abstract thinking and toward developing a rigorous, comprehensive, causal theory about the issue. The fundamental question is: How does this work? Search for Leverage Often there is a place in a system where with a little exertion or intervention, performance will begin to improve. Usually we are pulling the wrong levers while thinking they are high leverage. Sometimes we may be pulling the right ones but in the wrong way. Searching for leverage is an unreserved, determined3 search for the place where there’s a chance to fundamentally improve performance. The fundamental question is: Where can I intervene to create maximum improvement? The Mindset & Inquiry Behaviors In conclusion, the mindset results in a particular form of analysis – a specific type of inquiry – that manifests through four major areas of questioning. Purpose Mindset Inquiry Behaviors Learn Build a Shared, Useful Picture How can we learn together – and improve that learning – as rapidly as possible? Frame the Issue Expand Your Field of Vision What am I missing? Develop Insight Focus on the Physics How does this work? Have Impact Search for Leverage Where can I intervene to create maximum improvement? Frame the Issue Expand Your Field of Vision What am I missing? A classic example is developing demand for a product or service. In business that might occur when using price for3 business growth. Often organizations feeling a cash crunch will reduce price to increase demand. But if capacity is an issue, this can sometimes create so much demand that can’t be filled the organization will eventually frustrate customers by lower quality or longer fulfillment times. Raising price is counterintuitive! But raising price can increase revenue, while simultaneously slowing demand to a manageable pace. This gives time to increase capacity so that eventually lowering price could increase demand and sales…and the organization would have the capacity to meet the demand. This is a far more sustainable strategy. But it requires pulling the right lever in an unconventional way. 2 © 2017
  16. 16. Applied Systems THINKING The Systems THINKING Questions The ST Questions There are many tools to help apply the ST Mindset. These tools include simple and complex graphs, causal loop maps, stock and flow maps, and simulation models (including learning labs). Many of the tools require some training (e.g. graphs and maps). Some require years of4 skill building (e.g. simulation models). For many it seems daunting – or even a waste of time – trying to apply Systems THINKING because of an unfortunate high level of difficulty in learning and using the tools,. However, we have found anyone can immediately use a wide range of Systems THINKING questions (ST Questions) to leverage the power of the mindset…without the tools. On the following pages are sets of questions you can use to better frame the issue you are trying to address, determine how to address, and to build a process of collaborative learning. You can quickly see there are too many questions to use all at once! However, based on your needs – your current context, including where you are in the process of analysis or strategy development – you can pick those that are most applicable. We recommend perusing all to choose the most useful. Graphs can be simple trend graphs that include how one variable has changed (or will/should)4 change over time). Sometimes they include multiple variables to describe how the variables relate. Causal maps will show cause and effects between variables, providing a visual description of the relationships in the system., or they may include several variables. 3 © 2017
  17. 17. Applied Systems THINKING The Systems THINKING Questions To better learn… Build a Useful, Shared Picture: How can we learn together – and improve that learning – as rapidly as possible? Strategic planning processes (most processes actually) are usually thought of as short term, build the strategy with the executive team, create the 5 section binder, and go implement it. It’s assumed that execution will happen and the strategy will lead to the promised land. Few teams reach that land. Why? Because the real world and strategy isn’t a static, easy to understand place. There are dynamics unfolding. Things change. And our strategies are usually incomplete and inaccurate. So, rather than rigidly hold to the strategy or any process, what’s needed is a strategy as learning process. How can we develop understanding of the world in a way that brings together diverse perspectives in a useful way? How can we test that understanding before and during implementation? And how can we modify the strategy when it needs to be…before it’s too late? These are a few of the questions to address when employing this element of the Systems THINKING Mindset. How do we get on the same page? • What can we do to build same page understanding, to create a shared picture of the issue and potential solutions? • Is our understanding clear and unambiguous? What’s needed to make it more so? • Is it rigorous? Does it contain essential elements of reality? What’s needed to make it more rigorous/realistic? How do we build confidence in understanding/insight and strategy? • How do we build confidence in our theory of how it (the business, the community, the system) works? • Are we able to mentally simulate how it works? Can we create a credible story of how different actions will trace out through the system…and into the future? • If there appears to be important feedback loops (e.g. vicious cycles or system “push back”), would we learn more by developing causal loop maps? • Would we understand more by developing stock and flow maps? • Should we build a computer simulation model…and would that add enough value to warrant the effort? How do we make insight useful? • How do we keep the shared picture (mental model/explanatory theory) as simple as possible, but no simpler? • If we believe we need multiple measures to track, what would be the most important handful? • Are there elements of the theory that are part of the reality, but not necessarily a major factor in explaining the issue or potential solutions? Are there unnecessary complexities in the theory or strategy that you can remove?
 4 © 2017
  18. 18. Applied Systems THINKING The Systems THINKING Questions How do we learn as we go? • How do we develop a plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy? • What are some leading indicators that will help us evaluate the strategy (changes we would see soon that indicate longer term improvement will occur…that the strategy is on track)? • How can we create measures that can be updated regularly? How regularly (in most cases there’s benefit to greater frequency)? • How do we determine if the strategy is off track? • How do we evaluate the reasons for being off track? • Where is our shared picture inaccurate or incomplete in ways that limit effectiveness? • How do we adjust our thinking about the issue/strategy? How do we improve it? 5 © 2017
  19. 19. Applied Systems THINKING The Systems THINKING Questions To better frame the issue… Expand the Field of Vision: What are we missing? It’s important to make sure we choose the right issues and skillfully frame the problem of inquiry before following the typical tendency of knee-jerk problem solving and/or reacting. The following questions will help make sure you choose the right issues, not overlook places you should focus, and include all the perspectives needed to build understanding and generate insight. If this step is skipped over, or even done ineffectively, your efforts will suffer later by failing to improve performance or creating more (worse?) problems. Where are we? Where have we been? (Current Reality) • What are the most significant/troublesome trends (patterns of important system performance measures)? They can be tangible or intangible, quantitative or qualitative. • What’s been the trend for each over the past several years? • How broad a time horizon is useful in order to really understand each? (1 year, 5 years, 10 years, decades?) • Where are the trends going (especially if left unaddressed)? • What will be the future price paid if left to continue as expected? Where do we want to go? (Vision) • How do we want the future to play out? What’s our desired future trend – dynamic vision? • What is the long-term goal or outcome change of interest? What system performance do we want to see? • If we were to pick one measure to improve in the future, what would it be? And what would the improvement look like? • How far into the future do we need to look to see the change we want? • If we were gathering in the future (5 years? 10 years?) to celebrate achieving “beyond our wildest dreams” success, what we see that indicates we’ve succeeded? • What are the more routine aspects of the issue and our vision? More importantly, what are the more adaptive elements? How do we see further, expand our view of the issue? • What other perspectives/stakeholders are concerned about this issue or something related to it? • What other trends or system behaviors would these others see as related – perhaps even more important – to the issue? • How does this impact more than just our area of interest? • Think about expanding the area of focus. If we make a change to the issue as we wish, where else will there be an impact? • Would this (these) be a positive or negative unintended consequence(s)/impact(s)? 6 © 2017
  20. 20. Applied Systems THINKING The Systems THINKING Questions To better develop insight… Focus on the Physics: How does this work? Often we employ correlational thinking, comparison thinking or factors thinking to building understanding and taking action. What are the major factors associated with this issue? What seems to correlate with the trends we are seeing? How does our situation compare to another situation? Those adopting the Systems THINKING Mindset will instead focus on understanding how something works. If all the causal connections were drawn, can I understand how this systems fits together to create the behavior I wish to improve. When modifying or tuning a car to run more efficiently, it is important to shift focus from the dashboard and look at how the different sub-systems (engine, drive train, cooling system, etc…) work together. It’s only when you see where the most leverage in that system of system lies that you are then able to optimize performance. How do we create a broad perspective on metrics? • If we could stop time right now and look at the system – counting or measuring something – what would we focus on to assess system health? • What are the important metrics of performance? (think broadly…economic, physical, social) How do we identify important conditions and rates of change? • What’s accumulating? What are the key conditions? • In what direction are the important accumulations going? Increasing? Decreasing? How fast? • Do there appear to be any time delays in the system (places where something happens a long time after what seems to be a significant cause)? How do we identify important Reinforcing Loops? • Is there an obvious virtuous cycle (where things continue to get better and better)? • Is there a vicious cycle (where things continue to get worse and worse…maybe accelerating!)? How do we identify important Balancing Loops? • Is there a “push back” in the system? How has resistance occurred in the face of attempts to improve? • Does the system appear to be trying to stay in equilibrium? Why do you think it does? 7 © 2017
  21. 21. Applied Systems THINKING The Systems THINKING Questions To better achieve impact… Search for Leverage: Where can we intervene to create maximum improvement? In searching for leverage, we are looking for ways to maximize impact. We aren’t looking to tweak performance marginally in a better direction. We want to fundamentally improve it. Leverage is a big deal, and yet we rarely talk about it. We get lost in 5 point plans, and 7 step processes. But the goal should be finding leverage when dealing with big, hairy, adaptive issues. Here are some questions that help take our understanding of the physics and convert that into high leverage interventions. How do we identify previous ineffective interventions? • Where have there been efforts to improve performance (the system)? • Often past efforts were applied to the easiest place(s) to influence…or easiest to see…not necessarily the highest leverage. How do any of the past efforts appear to fit the “easy to do” or “easy to see” definition? How do we identify potential high leverage interventions? • Based on understanding the physics better, where might there be places of leverage you should consider? • Can you influence feedback loops to achieve leverage? • If there is already a major influencing factor contributing, do you need to support it to improve likelihood of success, dismantle it (having a negative influence), or modify it? • Previous efforts may have focused on building up a condition or asset (e.g. customers, supplies, morale), while ignoring what causes losses (e.g. churn, spoilage, morale loss). What interventions might be effective by focusing on the loss/erosion of a condition/asset? • Previous efforts may have focused on stemming the loss/erosion of a condition or asset (e.g. expenses, morbidity/deaths, quitting/attrition), while ignoring what causes build up (e.g. revenue from developing a superior product, developing chronic disease/incidence, relative attractiveness of the organization). What interventions might be effective by focusing on building a condition/asset? How do we predict how interventions will work? • It often takes a long time – perhaps years – before the metric you want to influence starts to improve. What other metrics might you see change in the near term (i.e. leading indicators)? In the intermediate term (i.e. secondary leading indicators)? • Have you thought through the various time delays in the system? Which ones are longer and may require earlier phasing? 8 © 2017
  22. 22. Applied Systems THINKING The Systems THINKING Questions • How might the transformation from lower performing to higher performing have different phases? Which parts of the strategy should you emphasize initially? Later?5 Often strategies only focus on key success factors, assuming they can be implemented with equal emphasis and all5 at once. Instead, strategies are often more effective when timed: Emphasize parts of the strategy now, and different parts later. It is helpful to evolve the strategy as it unfolds! This is called systemic orchestration. And systemic orchestration is another important systems competency that is rarely discussed or achieved. 9 © 2017 Chris Soderquist Pontifex Consulting PO Box 64 Hanover, NH 03755 (603) 276-0203 chris@findinghighleverage.com findinghighleverage.com

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