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.


ASEC 2016

Hello Systems Thinkers,

A special guest….

The session yesterday was excellent.  We had a surprise special guest.  Well, a surprise in so much as it was arranged at the last minute.  The guest, was Matt, of the Royal Navy and MoD.  I’ve been talking to Matt about various opportunities and him attending a session for a little while, so when he got in touch yesterday morning to say he was available at the last minute, I of course jumped at the chance.

….and a trip to ASEC

I’ll write up a proper review of the session, including reflections from group members in the next week or so.  In the meantime, I thought I’d say a little bit about my trip to ASEC this week.  What on earth is ASEC I hear you say.  Well, it is the Annual Systems Engineering Conference which is organised by INCOSE UK.  It took place on Tuesday and Wednesday at the University of Warwick, and it was brilliant.

I’ve wanted to go to ASEC for a couple of years now, but haven’t been able to.  This year I got very lucky and was able to attend as a poster I submitted to the Academic Research Showcase was accepted.  I’ve become involved through STA in a pan European research project looking at different methods of innovation and how to both manage and teach them. The project is called the TACIT Knowledge Alliance.  Here is a photo of me standing next to the poster submitted.

TACIT poster
TACIT poster

And here is the poster itself:

TACIT poster
TACIT poster
So much good stuff

The event involved lots of talks and tutorials.  With several going on at any one time, choosing what to go to was not easy.  There were of course lots of opportunities to catch up with people I knew and also meet new people, including several good folk who are subscribed to this blog.  This was brilliant.  Spending 48 hours in the company of around 150 other people who were similarly into all things systems, was fantastic.  Really stimulating.

So, what were the highlights?  For me, I genuinely enjoyed every talk I heard, but I think the two standout sessions were the Service Systems Engineering Working Group session and also the Easy Approach to Requirements Syntax (EARS) tutorial.

The services working group

I was briefly a member of the Services Working Group earlier this year, but have had to step back from full involvement because of a lack of time.  It’s a shame, as it’s a fascinating and pertinent area, but it was great to catch up with where the group is at.  The group are looking at determining to what degree the regular INCOSE Systems Engineering (SE) approach (if there is such a thing) can be applied in the services domain.  We spent this session discussing the key differences between products and services and whether these matter when trying to use SE methods.  We worked on categorising services into various types based on different characteristics.

We only had an hour and a half, but the conversation and perspectives were fascinating.  In my view, services are all about the organisation that’s behind delivering them.  I think functional focussed approaches can be applied to the design of services, but I’m less sure about their applicability for the ongoing evolutionary development of them.  As we’re finding, our service design problems are often complex and wicked in nature.  I think Capability Engineering, and the approaches we’re learning about, which are better suited to dealing with socially complex situations are where we will also need to look. We’ll see.


Easy Approach to Requirements Syntax is a very neat way to write requirements.  It was created by Alistair Mavin. Who also ran the tutorial.  Alistair did a sterling job of teaching us this concise and robust way of writing requirements.  The word “easy”, refers to the difficulty of learning the method and language, rather than the actual job of defining requirements, which is never easy.

If you want to know more about EARS, here is a paper by Alistair I found on ResearchGate.  There are loads there, so have a look.

Easy Approach to Requirements Syntax

For me, a key insight I will take away from this session was something that Alistair said.  It was along the lines of:

“Customers don’t have requirements.  They have goals.  Systems have requirements.”

The example Alistair gave was of a car.for a fast car, a requirement might be that it can travel from 0 to 60 mph in under 6 seconds.  This would be a requirement of the car, a system.  It’s unlikely it would be a requirement of the customer though.  A customer goal might be to have a fast car that give a real thrill of speed when driven and impresses his/her mates.

The job of the Requirements Engineer is to take those poorly defined goals and turn them into technical requirements.  And if it turns out that producing a car that accelerates to 60mph in 5.8 seconds requires a larger and more expensive engine than a car that get to 60mph in 6.2 seconds, that requirement will need to be looked at and possible traded off to see if the customer goals can be achieved in a different way. Perhaps by adding some flashy chrome to the body work and tightening up the suspension.

What does this mean for us?

What does this mean for us in health services.  I’m not quite sure, so suggest we reflect on it and discuss.  It takes us back to the subject of patient outcomes.  How we determine what they are and then design systems that deliver them.  How do we determine outcomes, and then translate them into specific requirements for our systems?  This is a big question for us.

Back to normal

So, next week it’s back to normal. No ASEC, and no special guests.  We’ll get back down to Rich Pictures.  Please have a go at producing a new Rich Picture for the staff canteen.  Pick a stakeholder, or a perspective and have a go from that point of view.

In the meantime, enjoy the weekend.


Week 20: Whole systems approaches to reducing population rates of obesity

Systems Thinkers,

Sam’s Take Over

Last week’s session was a special one.  Firstly, because I wasn’t’ able to be there, and it still went ahead.    Secondly, because fellow group member Sam Hayward took over and gave what sounded like a brilliant overview of some fascinating work he’s been following.  So, thanks Sam! Here’s the summary he’s kindly written for those of us who couldn’t make it:

Sam introduced the systems approach to reducing rates of obesity. The group went through the obesity system map from the 2007 Foresight report and were showed how it has been broken down into subsystems/domains.

Obesity System Map

An amazing full size and zoomable version can be viewed here:

Have fun.

And the full report is here:

Full report.

The stakeholders involved in influencing parts of the system were defined. The roll of local teams was discussed, it was identified that Local Authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups can only influence certain parts of the whole system but not all of it.


The various data sources for mapping against a whole system were outlined, Monthly Breastfeeding rates and National Child Measurement Programme measures were used as examples for monitoring impact of interventions.

The group reviewed various action plans and looked at how actions and interventions were being applied across the various domains. With actions plans and strategies being developed that would come under the responsibility of local areas. For example, the Childhood obesity action plan is broken down to cover actions across health services, education and within development control (planning and transport). Actions are targeted at both the individual and population level. The group discussed the qualities of various interventions within the subsystem domains.  The need for a national governmental leadership and action in this area was highlighted with the limited reach of the new national Plan for Action referenced. The limitations of local activity to enact a true whole system approach was considered.

Previous work on reducing rates of smoking was highlighted as a system that could be retrospectively mapped to look for analogous approaches. It was also suggested that the system map could be made into a linear model, in order to identify when intervention points happened.

The group found it useful to “walk through” an applied system approach relevant to Public health and recognised that having a whole system to plan to helped in defining purpose behind actions being delivered on the ground.

L-R: Obesity system map, Stakeholders and Partnership, Data and Planning tools, Action plans, Interventions

Getting it all out on the table
Getting it all out on the table

Week 19: Sam opens the door and shows us the way

Dear Systems Thinkers,

Guess what happened this week. That’s right, we didn’t do the Systemic Textual Analysis exercise.  I know, I know, it looks like we’re avoiding it intentionally.  We will do it, I promise.  Although actually, it won’t be next week as group member Sam is going to be talking to us about some work he’s been looking at involving a taking a systemic approach to challenges in public health.

So, what did we do this week.  Well, we have a pretty good excuse for not doing the Systemic Textual Analysis as it happens.  We had a very special guest who came to talk to us about the amazing work she’s been involved with.  Her name is Sam and she works for the MoD.  Over the past five years, she’s been deeply involved in rolling out a major programme within that organisation to develop its Systems Engineering/Thinking abilities.  Largely from an organisational and capability point of view.

Genuine trailblazers

I won’t go into details of the specifics of what they’ve been doing, but to say it’s impressive is an understatement.  I genuinely felt inspired.  For the team to have gained sponsorship at a high level for such a major programme is seriously impressive. They’ve been exploring how systemic approaches to understanding the problems and challenges they face as an organisation can be harnessed and embedded into all that they do.

The parallels between our organisations are substantial.  Both are large, hierarchical, command and control structured, public service organisations. Many of the challenges and issues Sam described facing on the journey of trying to develop and embed these capabilities totally resonated with me and the rest of the group.  It’s so impressive that they’ve persevered and continued to develop the credibility of these approaches.

Mix your methods

Sam describes herself as a “mixed-methods practitioner”.  She isn’t attached to any one tool, method or methodology, but picks up and uses whatever seems most appropriate for the given situation.  The two methodologies she finds the most useful in understanding and addressing complex organisational problems are Soft Systems Methodology and the VIable Systems Model.  I was pleased to hear this, as these are the two approaches I’ve identified as likely be most useful to us, so it was reassuring to hear her say that.

I’ve asked the group to give some feedback on the session, so you get more than just my perspective.  Here’s what I’ve had so far. I’ll add in more below when I receive it.

Matt’s Thoughts:

Some thoughts from me on a very enjoyable session:

  • It was helpful to look outside of our usual setting and see that some of the challenges are common to a similar public industry.
  • Sam gave a very reassuring pragmatic view on systems thinking around trying techniques and working out what works best for each situation and to pick the solution that fits. Think tool box rather than one dimension.
  • She also gave helpful advice about testing it on the right issues to help you and others gain understanding and confidence – don’t go straight at the most complex problem!
  • Some really good thoughts around having a taxonomy of terms and approaches to show what we mean in the phrases we use.
  • I really liked the description about seeking the ambiguity and not being afraid of it. Widening the problem also helps to widen the solutions!
Peter’s Thoughts:

“Approach (paraphrasing): 90% mindset change management, 10% tools/techniques.

Senior commitment: 5 years ring-fenced funding. How did they get this? What was it that made the decision maker commit?

(5 year comes across as a serious long-term commitment, but in MOD terms, this may not be considered long term – perhaps it is just my NHS-glasses)

Common sense realised: Focussing resource upstream to make better decisions, rather than applying systems thinking post decision – e.g Do we need a tank, rather than, how do we make a better tank.”

Ciao for now,

It was a brilliant session and I hope we’ll be staying in touch with Sam. She and her team have really blazed a trail and I just hope we can follow in their footsteps.  Further discussion is required!

OK, enjoy your weekend,


A Provocation: Jean Boulton Challenges us to Embrace Complexity

A very special guest

A couple of weeks ago, we were very fortunate to have Jean Boulton come to talk to us at Systems Thinkers Anonymous. These are some rather belated reflections on what was an excellent session. It was a real thrill and a pleasure to have Jean come. A real coup. For anyone who doesn’t know who Jean is, have a look at this previous post. In person, she is as charming as she is formidably bright and enthusiastic about her subject. Happily for us, that subject is directly relevant to our work.

I’d read Jean’s book “Embracing Complexity” earlier in the year and had heard her talk at the SCiO Winter Open Meeting, so was reasonably familiar with her approach and views on how complexity theory can help us better manage our organisations. It’s a different kind of approach to the prevailing school of thought in management and for me, it feels very right.

Embracing Complexity

An alternative to Reductionism and Determinism

We had about an hour and a half with Jean in total. She began by giving us a 15 minute whirlwind tour of complexity theory and the differing view it takes from linear scientific approaches, such as those influenced by Newtonian Science, before having an informal discussion. Not that Jean says there’s anything wrong with linear approaches, there’s a time and a place for everything. Holding that linear cause and effect view of all actions having equal and opposite reactions can lead us into trouble when we face complex problems in open systems though, and those are the types of problems we’re faced with in organisations everyday. In complex environments, what emerges when you take action is unpredictable and nonlinear. This is the world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA). Our world.

To set the scene, I’ll recount the essential points of Complexity Theory as an alternative to the prevailing reductionist and deterministic approaches, before then giving my own reflections on what I’ve personally taken from it. Jean began by differentiating between two differing scientific viewpoints that have converged to dominate the management of our organisations, markets and societies. Those being the Newtonian, mechanical view where everything moves in a predictable, deterministic fashion, and Equilibrium Thermodynamics which see most situations as near equilibrium. This is extended to the belief that when things are close to equilibrium we can predict what will happen next as things tend to move back to equilibrium.

Jean argues that the mechanical worldview, a deterministic and reductionist one, has led to too high an importance being placed on design, control, prediction and measurement. It has come to dominate the idea of what is professional. Historically, in the West, we have been conditioned to believe that predictability and therefore control, measurement and structure are ‘scientific’ and hence professional ways of working. Management and professionalism have come to be about being “scientific”, where scientific means being singularly reductionist to the exclusion of also being systemic in enquiry.

Is it reasonable to reason?

A reductionist view believes that to solve a “big” problem we should divide it into smaller problems that can be solved. The solution to the bigger problem is therefore the sum of the solutions of the smaller problems. This is logical and seductive in its simplicity, but is actually simplistic, as it does not address the interactions between the problems. System Thinking still tends to involve dividing big problems up, but pays close attention to the relationships between the smaller components.

Reductionist and deterministic views of organisations assert that;

  • They behave like machines and are predictable.
  • The things that are important can be measured
  • Departments can be dealt with independently.
  • Change can happen top down
  • One method or “best practice” can work everywhere
  • The future is predictable and follows from the past
  • People behave rationally and like parts of a machine
  • Measurement leads to control and clarifies what to do next
  • Projects, functions, groups can largely be treated independently of each other (and indeed this is the best option) and can be made to follow a controllable process

This is the world of Budgets, Project Management Offices, and Strategic Visions of the future. In “machine thinking”, there is also an implicit assumption that organisations cannot learn, adapt, that nothing new can emerge and that the future is just a continuation of the present.

So what is Complexity Science?

To quote Jean:

“Complexity science is the study of the evolution of systems which are open to their environment. It explores how the reflexive interdependence of constituent elements leads to self-organisation and emergence of new characteristics in a way that is shaped by, but not determined by history.”

Jean explained to us that Complexity Science has stepped beyond Newtonian and Equilibrium Thermodynamics views of science and offers an alternative. It is grounded in Evolutionary Theory and yet emphasises that “survival of the fittest” is more like “survival of those most able to prosper in a given context”. It emphasises that what emerges is very much context/environment dependant. That which is a strength in one context, may well be a weakness in another, and the nature of contexts and environments are often beyond our control. They change in ways that are not random but not predictable either.

Complexity Theory says that the world and human systems and economies and organisations are types of ‘complex systems’, and that they behave more like living organisms than like machines. In a world that is increasingly fast-changing, things often do not go to plan, people and situations are individualistic, many things impact on each other, change can happen radically and rapidly. Thinking you can control things when you cannot can create more harm than good and lead to unintended consequences.

What does this mean for management?

Jean said that in her experience, public services are too often managed towards “economies of scale” and efficiencies are sought through hierarchical standardisation, and top down, “Command and Control”. She expressed her belief that we over measure organisations in the belief that it’s the right, professional thing to do, but the learning from these measures does not necessarily lead to better outcomes. She referred to the example of the British education system, which has been increasingly managed like a “machine”, with everything possible being measured, yet literacy and numeracy rates among British children have been decreasing and are right at the bottom of the pile compared to other developed countries. Something important is being missed.

Jean feels we need to work to understand what really matters to our customers, patients, service users, stakeholders, society, rather than simply measure what can be measured. She believes much more emphasis needs to be placed on “bottom up”, localised organisation rather than top-down machine like focus on “economies of scale” – albeit situated within clear principles and intentions, with strong review, learning and sharing processes.

So, what do I make of all this?

By and large, this all rings very true for me. I don’t think it’s a black and white case that we should forget about scientific reductionist and deterministic approaches to management and be purely systemic, as we’d end up in quite a pickle. And indeed, as Jean would point out, complexity thinking is a middle ground between thinking we can predict and control everything and thinking we know nothing. Complexity thinking is not advocating a laissez-faire approach – rather it is bringing our attention to the fact that many things are interconnected whether we like it or not – and to ignore that can bring failure.

After all, we have an enormous amount to thank scientific reductionist approaches for. I think the point though is we shouldn’t be blinded by their brilliance and in honour of their successes ignore their deficiencies and apply them inappropriately. There is a time and a place for all methods, including measurement. We just need to be careful and considered in our approach and try and ensure that the approach to measurement is fit for purpose.

As when anyone tries to argue against a status quo, in our discussion Jean took a fairly hard stance against the reductionist and deterministic approach and I know a couple of group members found this a difficult view to agree with. I think that was probably a symptom of us not having much time with Jean, as having read her book and having heard her talk more extensively, I know she values these approaches. She is after all a physicist by training. It’s just a question of finding the right balance and using the most appropriate approach for the situation and context we find ourselves in. I think it can also be quite shocking to hear someone say something negative about a “scientific” approach to management (or at least to question which ‘scientific approach suits the complex social world). I think the point though, is that there is nothing scientific about using a “scientific” approach inappropriately. And of course, complexity theory itself is a science!

Often, the things that really matter can’t be easily measured quantitatively

Something that stood out for me from Jean Boulton’s talk was that sometimes, the things that really matter just aren’t measurable. Or at least, are very difficult to define, monitor and measure. I think that’s probably the case with patient outcomes and it’s something to think about. There was a feeling among some in the group that Jean’s approach is one that dismisses measurement altogether. I’m don’t think that’s correct. I believe that for her it’s more about stepping back from measuring absolutely everything we possibly can (and then doing nothing useful with the data, apart from beating people with it) and instead really understanding what’s important and it may or may not be possible to measure that. That’s my interpretation, and also my belief. We need balanced approaches that rely as much on qualitative feedback as quantitative measurement. We need ways to spot and then monitor emerging trends and deal with multi-causal inputs and interconnected outcomes. Sounds difficult, but to me, it seems that to aim for anything less would be to let ourselves and those we serve down.

The question that “the things that really matter are not always easily measurable” is one that seems less relevant in business. That is to say, it is still true, but I wonder if it matters as much. In business, you gauge whether customer outcomes are being fulfilled by their willingness to pay you for your goods and services. It’s just so much harder in public services, where that customer supplier relationship and the direct payment for services doesn’t exist. Please don’t read that as a suggestion we privatise and introduce direct charging in healthcare services, it absolutely isn’t, it’s just a recognition of how difficult our job is in identifying and then knowing if we’re fulfilling the right outcomes for patients. Feedback may be more important than direct measurement, and the best feedback comes from open, honest and direct conversation. We need to be sure we are we having those conversations. Even then, cause and effect are often hard, if not impossible to attribute in our complex multi-causal world. Being too simplistic about what is measured and what is assumed to cause what, can not only waste money, but result in a dysfunctional “system” and unintended consequences.

We need to pay attention to context and complexity

Another point I took away from Jean’s talk was that the approach you use, hard or soft, tight or loose, reductionist or systemic depends on the stability of the environment and the degree of control you have. We need to ask ourselves where we sit on those continua. How Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous is our commissioning world? The approach, tools and methods we pick for doing commissioning will be influenced by the answers to those questions.

I think the answer to this will be constantly changing. I mean, even in my commissioning role and in the context of our organisations, some things are relatively clear, constant, simple and predictable, while others and most certainly not. Even then, these can quickly and easily flip and change to being more or less stable states. We need to be open to the possibility of change in our environment and honest about our ability to predict and control it.

Not only provoked, but also inspired

So taken were some of us with what Jean had to say, that we’ve been inspired to set up a small sub-group to work on a project together. We were particularly taken with the idea that “sometimes, the things that really matter can’t be measured”. This made us wonder what it means for us as commissioners and in particular, what it means for the Commissioning for Outcomes agenda.

We have resolved to write a paper titled something like, “Commissioning for Outcomes – Using systems thinking to think about how to do it.”

Ultimately, I think Systems Thinking, as a complementary approach to Complex Systems Thinking is well placed to meaningfully support commissioning for outcomes. After all, the task at hand is to design and configure a system that has the capability to deliver the defined outcomes. Initially though, we just want to think about what it means and how to do it, and good quality literature and evidence on the subject appears to be rather thin on the ground. Questions we’ll be looking at include:

  • What does Commissioning for Outcomes mean?
  • How do we go about deciding what outcomes are important?
  • And if they can’t be easily measured quantitatively, how do we know whether they’re being achieved?
  • Even if we can measure outcomes and know they’re being achieved, can we attribute that success to any particular interventions? How do we approach the difficulty of proving cause and effect in this non-linear complex world?

We plan to use the Systems Thinking tools and approaches we’ve been learning about to look at these questions. Thank you to Jean, and watch this space!

BigLeeC Embraces Complexity

Here are some reflections from STA member BigLeeC on Jean Boulton’s excellent talk on 28th July.

The totality of an individual’s aims and expectations

“I found the session with Jean really useful in reframing my view of systems thinking, or at least giving it another angle of attack.  I think it could be easy to just think of our “systems” as hospitals, organisations, commissioners, providers etc, but forget the systems that exist around individuals.  This view really supports the work that we are doing with Personal Health Budgets and Integrated Personalised Commissioning (IPC), where we are seeking to capture that totality of an individual’s aims and expectations, not just on their health needs, but more broadly to capture social, housing, education and wellbeing needs.

It’s all about the Individual

One potential outcome of the IPC work could be that when we take a broader view that person’s individual system, we may together find inefficiencies, duplication, unnecessary activity and also get back to what is going to ultimately make a difference to that person. The further benefit of taking that broader system view is that it allows us to then evidence when an intervention or change in one area has made a positive impact on another. For example a person may have struggled to get the right support for depression and we, through a personal budget, may enable that person to access a weekly walking group.  Taking a system view may allow us to see that not only has that person’s wellbeing improved, but their physical health needs have also, and a result they attend their GP less frequently.  That ability to note the outcome of interventions across a system may help us to build the case for more significant change away from the traditional way of commissioning public services along paternalistic lines. “

Big News – Gary Smith Talk Tomorrow

Systems Thinkers,

Things here at STA Towers are going very well indeed.

Thank you to the brilliant Jean Boulton

Last week, the brilliant Jean Boulton came to talk to us about Complexity Theory and what it means for managers like us.  It was fantastic and we’ll be putting up a full post with reflections on what Jean told us and what it means for our work.

Another Special Guest – Gary Smith
In advance of that though, I just had to update you with some brilliant news.  Gary Smith, the INCOSE International Healthcare Ambassador has agreed to come and talk to us at our session tomorrow.
Gary is on something  of a high at the moment.  Along with Brigitte Daniel Allegro he won an award for Best Systems Science paper at the INCOSE International Symposium in Edinburgh two weeks ago.   It’s major conference in the international systems community calendar, and their work on Architectural parallels between Engineered and Biological Defence and Security Systems went down a storm.  Then last week he was in Boulder, Colorado, for the International Society for Systems Science conference where the theme was Achieving a Sustainable Future and he ran a plenary session on Engineering Sustainable Solutions.
It just so happens Gary has a window of opportunity this week, and he’s offered to come to talk to us tomorrow.  I know it’s short notice, and some of you are away on holiday, so I’m sorry you’ll miss this, but for those of you who can come, do.
The Systems Tree
There are lots of fascinating things Gary could talk to us about, including the papers mentioned above and the brilliant work he and Brigitte did on  taking a Systems Thinking Perspective to the complex medical condition of Sepsis, but we thought it would be best to look at the  Systems Tree.
The Systems Tree is a model he and Brigitte developed to communicate the essential concepts and components of Systems Thinking to learners like us.  Here’s a sneak peak of it:
The Systems Tree
The Systems Tree
OK, I hope to see you tomorrow.

Embracing Complexity

Written 13 May 2016

Dear Systems Thinkers,

Jean Boulton

Jean Boulton is now confirmed to come and talk to us about “complexity” on the 9th June from 12:30 to 13:30.

I’m thrilled about this and thoroughly enjoyed hearing her speak previously.  It’s quite a coup to have her coming to see us.  Here’s some background:

“Jean Boulton is a director, strategy consultant and part-time academic at both Bath and Cranfield universities. She teaches, consults, researches and writes about the implications of complexity thinking to management, research and policy development. She has been Chair of Sustain Ltd, Chair of Social Action for Health, a non-executive director of IOPP and Head of Engineering Operations for BAe Commercial Aircraft. She was previously a Senior Lecturer at Cranfield School of Management. She has consulted many blue chip companies and charities including Carillion, RBS, ICI, Lloyds TSB and Oxfam. Her background in theoretical physics coupled with her practical engagement in the fields of management and social research – both through academia, consulting, hands-on management and working as a director and trustee – give her a multi-faceted, informed and practical perspective on the implications of embracing complexity.”

Embracing Complexity

She’s written this first-rate book, which I’ve put on our suggested reading list:


I think we’ll probably keep it quite informal and just have an open discussion with her, rather than a presentation.

Something Funny

So, wishing you fellow “thinkers” an enjoyable weekend, and here’s a little humour to start it off.  It’s an funny article I came across while googling the group name Systems Thinkers Anonymous to check it wasn’t in use elsewhere: