Sloppy thoughts

Complex System (640x480)
Complex System

Is it just me or is anyone else bumping up against lots of binary questions and linear thinking these days? On LinkedIn, Twitter, TV, in day-to-day conversations?

“Is this thing better than that thing?” “Is leadership more important than management?” “A obviously causes B, so lets fix A.” “Mandate the wearing of cycle helmets and save lives”

These kinds of questions and assertions can send our minds straight to a place of stored knowledge, analysis and judgement. Quite a small place really.

Fine if we are being asked about travel directions. “Is it left or right at the next junction?” In these cases there is a good chance that there is a single, correct answer.

Less useful if the apparent issue is part of a more complex inter-relationship of events, processes and behaviours. Less useful if different people have different views of what is more or less relevant in such a dynamic web of activity.

So, when we consider the assertion that mandating the wearing of cycle helmets will save lives, many of us might agree. It is intuitively obvious.

But zoom out from this linear relationship for a moment. Consider – as New Zealand has – the numbers of people who will give up their cycle commute to work or evening ride because of helmet legislation, and the larger knock-on public health impact of reduced cardio-vascular health in the population at large.

I am not inviting an either/or debate on cycle helmets. Ideally an inspiring public dialogue will achieve tactical (less head injuries) and strategic (better public cardio-vascular health) outcomes.

Rather I am inviting the development of an inquiring and systems level approach to the way we engage with issues more generally.

An approach that considers the bigger, often more complex picture. An approach which helps us better understand inter-relationships and where these form helpful and not so helpful feedback loops. An approach which helps reveal what is important and what is less important.

Maybe we all intuitively know this. And so there are perhaps wider questions – for a future blog maybe – about the ease with which we embrace sloppy thinking and our attachment to simplistic soap-box points of view.

Dave Stewart
The Fresh Air Learning Company