Warren Quinn and the Seven Samurai

Hello Systems Thinkers,

Just a very quick note today. We had a brilliant session yesterday.  Warren Quinn, a Systems Engineer who has deep experience in the structuring of complex sociotechnical problems using Systems Thinking approaches.

Warren is a great guy.  You won’t meet someone with a bigger passion for systems approaches and a better ability to explain how to get the best out of them.  I loved listening to him taking us through a project where he used several techniques to make improvements to a real life situation using SSM and other approaches.  

Everyone enjoyed it and Warren was given a warm round of applause when he finished.  There was a real energy in the room.  I appreciated Warren showing the group that SSM is a powerful approach for real life problems and works to great effect outside of the classroom environment.  Everyone came away keen to get on with honing and using their knowledge.

You can’t “solve” a Wicked Problem

For now, I just want to pick out two points that really stood out from the session for me.  The first is Warren’s assertion that it’s not really possible to “solve” the the messy, wicked type problems we’re dealing with. Rather, we should think more in terms of trying to improve the situation.  This isn’t really new to us, as one of the criteria for classify a problem as being wicked is that “potential solutions are not right or wrong, but in fact just better or worse, and that depending on who you are and your relationship to the situation”.

It was really helpful to have Warren point that out though. We often lapse into talking about “solutions”, but it’s important to remember we can’t really solve these problems.  For example, Simon Stevens’ Five Year Forward View and the Sustainability and Transformation Plans the NHS is working on aren’t going to “solve” the the situation/problem perse. They will hopefully improve the situation though.  Indeed, we hope they will improve the situation a lot.  But that will depend on who you are and your perspective or relationship to the situation.  Indeed, it’s likely the interventions and changes made will lead to unforeseen consequences of some sort and new problems.  We will constantly be working to improve the situation.  The challenge is to focus of systemic, rather than reactive and reductive interventions.

But the Seven Samurai can be helpful

This brings us to the second thing I want mention.  The “Seven Samurai of Systems Engineering”.  It’s model Warren introduced us to that he uses at the beginning of his exploration of a situation.  It’s a way of beginning to structure a problem.  I think it’s absolutely brilliant and have already had a go at using it in my own work.  Here is the model:

The Seven Samurai of Systems Engineering

And here’s the set of slides I’ve taken that image from.  I just found them online, but think they’re very good.


I like that in one 7 part model, they have managed to encapsulate a way of structuring the principal things you need to think of when considering an intervention, including problems resulting from the intervention.  In that sense, it’s an iterative, or even recursive model.  I’ve a feeling we’ll be using it a lot!

Next week we’ll get back to SSM and developing our Root Definitions.  Warren gave us a nice piece of advice for how to integrate the Worldview into a Root Definition, so we’ll give that a go.

Until then, have a great weekend and week.


1 thought on “Warren Quinn and the Seven Samurai”

  1. Tim
    Not seen the Seven Samurai of Systems Engineering before, but I note the author: James Martin. Know him via many INCOSE meetings, done some great stuff over the years, I’ve a great respect for him. Like the slideset and concepts described.
    As to the wicked problem, and can’t solve: absolutely agree. What is important – to me – is the invaluable mental mind shift that occurs when you shift from ‘solving a problem’ to ‘improving a situation. This is so important.
    Another great post, thanks, good luck with further meetings of your group.
    Cheers Julian.

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