Embracing Complexity: Jean Boulton INCOSE Talk on 24th April 2017

A quick post to let you know about an upcoming talk being put on by the Bristol branch of INCOSE on Monday the 24th April.

The speaker, Jean Boulton, is a good friend of Systems Thinkers Anonymous and kindly came to speak to us last summer.  Here’s a reminder of the session:


I think Jean is great.  She will be talking about her her book, “Embracing Complexity” and experiences as a manager, consultant and academic in relation to Complexity Theory and what it means for managing organisations.

This is one I don’t think you should miss.

The evening will start at 18:30 for a 19:00 start.

Presentation Details:

Meeting Title:     Embracing Complexity: Adaptive management in a volatile and complex world

Presenter Names:    Jean Boulton

Date:            24 April 2017

Time:           18:30 for a 19:00 start – 21:00

Venue:            Atkins, 500 Park Avenue, Aztec West, Bristol, BS32 4RZ

Cost:            Free – Non-members welcome

You can book here:



Nimrod AEW3: A Cautionary Tale

A quick post to let you know about an upcoming talk being put on by the Bristol branch of INCOSE on Monday the 05th of December.

Title:  Nimrod AEW3: A Cautionary Tale
Presenters:  Peter Brook & Mike Parnell
Location: Atkins, The Hub 500 Park Avenue, Aztec West, Bristol BS32 4RZ
Time: 18:30 for 19:00 start to 21:00
Cost: FREE. Non-Members Welcome

You can book here.

And download a flyer/poster here.

And here’s some more information about the talk.  Whilst it is about an aircraft project, I believe it should be of interest to those of us in the health service and other sectors.  There will be lots of commonalities in the lessons learnt. I’m very much looking forward to the talk.

December 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the cancellation of the Nimrod Airborne Early Warning aircraft, arguably the most traumatic event to befall the post-war defence systems community.

The technological difficulties are relatively well known and certainly played a part. Less publicised are the many causes of failure resulting from the nature of the system, how it was specified and developed and how procurement was conducted.

This talk will be given by systems community leading lights Peter Brook & Mike Parnell; two people who had a ringside seat at various times and in different roles in the 10 years leading up to cancellation.

The story will be told from start to finish, and lessons drawn which are still relevant today to anyone involved in commissioning, procurement and systems more generally.

I hope to see you there.


NiteWorks Architecture Process & INCOSE UK Architecture Working Group

A quick post to let you know about an upcoming talk being put on by the Bristol branch of INCOSE on Tuesday the 08th of November.

The speaker, Mike Wilkinson, former INCOSE UK President, will give a presentation on the NiteWorks Architecture Process.  Mike is Technical Director at NiteWorks and he has oversight of all NiteWorks projects and outputs.

Mike will also provide a short update on the activities of the INCOSE UK Architecture Working Group, which has been very influential across many business domains. Mike will be free to answer questions from the audience.

The evening will start at 18:30 for a 18:45 start.

Presentation Details
Meeting Title:     NiteWorks Architecture Process and an update on the Architecture Working Group
Presenter Names:    Mike Wilkinson
Date:            8 November 2016
Time:           18:30 – 20:15
Venue:           Atkins, 500 Park Avenue, Aztec West, Bristol, BS32 4RZ
Cost:            Free – Non-members welcome

You can book here:


Here is a flyer with the event info:



Digital Railway Talk on 12th October

Just a quick post to let you know about an upcoming talk being put on by the Bristol branch of INCOSE on Monday the 12th of October.

The subject is the Digital Railway project and the System of Systems approach the team are using and the speakers are:

Colin Brown (Network Rail) Principal Architect Phase 3 &
Mike Brownsword (Atkins) Phase 3 Target State Lead

It’s free to attend and all are welcome.  We’ll also be having a brief AGM at the beginning of the evening, where we’ll discuss the upcoming programme of events.

Here is a flyer with the event info:

Digital Rail Talk

and here is a link to the INCOSE site, where you can register if you’d like to come:


I hope to see you there.



The momentum builds

Hello Systems Thinkers,

We’re going public

I’ve some good news to share.  Word of our efforts are spreading and I’ve been asked to give a talk about our excellent learning group at the upcoming Autumn Open Meeting of Systems and Cybernetics in Organisations (SCiO).

The event  is in  Manchester on the 17th October.  I’ve been to a couple of SCiO Open Days now and they are excellent.  They always have a set of talks covering a diverse set of systemic approaches to approaching organisation, management and leadership.  They are real melting pots and the questions, conversation and debate that follow on from talks are always rich and powerful learning experiences.  Here is a link to the event promo page. Take a look, as the other speakers look brilliant.  


We’re part of a wider community

I’m thrilled and honoured the community view our efforts in STA to be worthy of a platform at this event.  I’ll try to capture the spirit of adventure we’re taking in our efforts to intrapreneurially improve our individual capabilities, joint capabilities and those of the organisations we work for. I mentioned in  a post a week or two ago that I’m genuinely proud and impressed with the way you group members have taken to and stuck with this and I will make sure that is communicated.  

We’re doing something special together

We’re beginning to gain  some real momentum, with spin off projects being set up by “sub-groups” now to look at specific topics. I’ve recently said in conversation to a couple of you that I think we’re doing something quite “special” here.  That’s not to say special in a sense that we deserve fame and glory.  I mean special in the sense that we’ve tapped into a ground-up approach to learning that’s genuinely working and there is a real sense of fun, productivity and for me at least, personal fulfillment in what we’re doing.  This self-directed approach isn’t the norm in our top-down “command and control” type hierarchical supraorganisations.

We’re not alone

Back to the talk, but also following on, I will be sharing the stage with a chap I know called Mike Haber.  Interestingly, he is also leading a Systems Thinking oriented learning group where he works.  The approach he, and his group are taking is different to ours, but at its heart is the same spirit of bottom up personal learning and development.  We’ll be doing a kind of compare and contrast of the two groups and why we’ve taken the approaches we have.  I hope we will draw out what others who may be interested in setting up their own  groups, and I hope others will, should think about and focus on.  Like I said above, I think there is something quite special about being in an active learning group and any advice and help we can offer to others so they might enjoy the experience, we will.  And on that subject if there are any readers of this blog out there who are thinking of setting  up their own learning group, please don’t be shy, just get in touch.

No rest for the wicked (problems)

We’ve a busy month ahead

We’ve quite a bit going on over September.  Have a look at the plan below.  I know we don’t always manage to stick to our plans, but i think there’s a good chance we will this one.

One thing I want to ask, is whether you feel ready to now move away from this “hard” approach to gathering and analysing requirements that we’ve been using to move more into the realm of “soft” systems approaches.  Ultimately, I think it’s “soft systems” approaches that are going to be most fruitful for us as service commissioners, but before we make the move, I want to check you don’t want to spend more time working with the HRM approach.  We could spend a lot more time developing our abilities with it if we wanted to and we’ve barely scratched the surface with it.  Then again, we can always come back to it.  I think we could do with having a look at the Soft Systems Methodology in October and seeing how we get on with it, but do let me know what you think.

1st September –  Allotment Requirements – the task of defining requirements for our allotment

8th September –  Mary and Julian will present work they’re doing on a project about social isolation using the tools and techniques they’ve learned through STA

15th September – I will give a talk recapping on the ground we’ve covered so far and where I see us going next

22nd September –  We have a special guest joining us; Sam Williams a fellow joint INCOSE and SCiO member and a professional Systems Engineer who is very much a Systems Thinker.  Looking forward to that.  You can’t help but be bowled over by Sam’s enthusiasm for the subject.

29th September – Group member Sam will tell us about a Public Health National Obesity project using systems approaches

So, lots going on over here at STA towers.  Let’s see where it all takes us.

Into October I hope.  Which I already have quite a few plans for, so they’ll be no rest for us an our wicked problems.


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.

Lots of Opportunities

Written 10/06/2016


Do remember the INCOSE talk on Monday evening.  You will all  be very welcome.  It’s free, it’s going to be a good talk and they’ll be an opportunity to network with Systems Engineers and Systems Thinkers alike. People who do this stuff as their day job.

SCiO Development and Open Days

I’m not sure if I’ve told you about SCiO (Systems and Cybernetics in Organisations) in a previous email, so apologies if I’m repeating myself.  They are a membership organisation for Systems Thinkers.  There are a small, organisation and have something like 150 members and many of them are management consultants, working on complex organisational problems.  Memberships costs a staggering £25 per year and for that you get to attend their development days for free.  I joined back in January and went to their Winter Development Day and then Open Day in London. Their open days are open to all, including non-members and only cost £10 to attend.  Again, staggering value.  The days consist of 4 talks and lots of networking opportunities.  This is actually where I heard Jean Boulton speak.  There’s one coming un at the start of July and if you’re interested, here’s a link to the details:


SCiO Viable System Model Training Day

There is also a Viable System Model training day being held in just a couple of weeks, on a Saturday.  Again, amazing value, at just £20 for members:


I’ve booked to go to the upcoming development and Open days, but am now wondering if I might go to the training day instead.  Join me.


INCOSE Systems Thinking Training Day

Written 16/05/2016

Hello Systems Thinkers,

INCOSE Training Day

I thought I should let you know about an upcoming Systems Thinking Training day.

It is part of a larger training day event being run by the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) on 8th June at the Lydiard House Conference Centre near Swindon.

INCOSE are an excellent organisation and if you’re interest in all things systems develops, I can recommend membership, which I think is excellent value at £105 per year.

Here is a link to information about the overall event and the five different courses on offer:


And here is information about the Systems Thinking 1 day course:


Stuart Burge

It is being delivered by Stuart Burge, who’s excellent bite size Systems Thinking resources we are using.

I really wish I could get to this, I’ve heard excellent things about Stuart’s courses, but have already self-funded several development days this past year and this one is a stretch too far for me.  If you are in the fortunate position of having a training budget you can use, then this is something you might consider.


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: