Concluding 3 intensive weeks of content immersion, eight student groups created infographics of the ideas that resonated with them from the “Systems Thinking 2” class in the Creative Sustainability program at Aalto University. Each group had been given 3 weeks in advance to prepare content to lead a learning discussion, staking a position on a list of references. As students participated in the intensive sessions, the broader contexts reshaped those positions into a broader appreciation of the breadth of systems thinking. The initial positions and concluding syntheses were:
The ending infographics represent a synthesis of the content from the course, each group having traced a different path. To rebalance team sizes, a few individuals migrated to a different group. Some anchored more on the content they had led, while others chose to strengthen linkages to other ideas.
1. Appreciative systems, futures → Into the Future with Systems Thinking
Group 1 read through a cluster of references on appreciative systems and futures and a map of the basic ideas to produce a presentation slide set.
The concluding infographic by Fahimeh Foutouhi, Petra Tammisto, Riikka Ikonen, Marta Jaakkola and Anna Muukkonen additionally swept in dialogues, learning, social ecological systems, complex systems and anticipatory systems.
2. Boundary, inquiry, perspectives → Systems thinking — synthesis
Group 2 worked through a cluster of references on boundary, inquiry and perspectives and a map of the basic ideas to produce a presentation slide set.
The concluding infographic by Miguel Fonseca, Annina Lattu and Jennifer Pitkänen put a higher emphasis on learning (a cluster of references led by Group 3), wrapping in ideas of resilience, turbulence, anticipatory systems on top the content for which they were primarily responsible.
3. Learning categories, postnormal science, ignorance → Systems Thinking from learning and knowledge making perspective
Group 3 focused on a cluster of references on learning categories, postnormal science and ignorance and a map of the basic ideas to produce a presentation slide set.
The concluding infographic by Emma Berg, Melanie Wolowiec and Lilli Mäkelä added in participation, judgement and anticipation, with larger contexts of cultural systems and biotic systems. Additionally, they charted a reference timeline of the articles from the course depicting the importance of the content longitudinally.
daviding March 9th, 2016
Posted In: systems
The average Canadian worker has (at least) some college or university education. This fact is counter to presumptions in a question on the first day at the World Economic Forum by Fareed Zacharia, in an interview with Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Zacharia asked:
What do you say to the average worker in Canada, who may not have a fancy college degree — and I’m thinking about the average worker in America or in Europe, as well — who looks out at this world and says “I don’t see what globalization is doing for me. The jobs are going to South Korea and China and Vietnam and India. Technology is great, but I can’t afford the new iPad Pro, and more importantly, this technology means that it increasinly makes me less valuable. Why shouldn’t I be angry and involved the politics of progress?”
The response by Trudeau spoke to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the theme of the Davos conference. He didn’t actually respond to the presumption on education.
In a national picture of educational attainment:
In 2012, about 53.6% of Canadians aged 15 and over had trade certificates, college diplomas and university degrees. This was an increase of 20.9 percentage points since 1990.
… says “The Indicators of Well-Being in Canada (2016)“, by Employment and Social Development Canada.
In the Economic Indicators for Canada,
Between 1999 and 2009, the proportion of adults aged 25 to 64 with tertiary education in Canada increased from 39% to 50%. In 2009, Canada had the highest proportion of the adult population with tertiary education among all reporting member countries of the OECD. By comparison, the 2009 OECD average was 30%.
… says Statistics Canada in “Educational Attainment and Employment: Canada in an International Context (February 2012)“.
If there’s going to be another industrial revolution, an educated population should be better positioned for it. What’s the fourth industrial revolution? The World Economic Forum describes “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond“:
daviding January 20th, 2016
As part of the Master’s Program in Creative Sustainability at Aalto University, I’ll be in Finland for 3 weeks in February, as an instructor. I’m doing this as a favour for Katri Pulkkinen, who has been teaching the course since 2010, and felt that she needed some extra time to work on her Ph.D. dissertation.
Systems Thinking 2 follows in a series of compulsory courses, each with specified learning outcomes:
The official content of the course is delivered in intensive sessions:
On January 12, my colleagues Susu Nousala and Glen Forde launched the course in a 2-hour session with orientation materials. The course content is available on the open Internet at http://coevolving.com/aalto/201602-st2-muo-e8004/, and has been evolving over the past week.
The 25 students have been organized into 8 groups. Each group is preparing to stake a position on a research reference cluster, to lead an hour discussion for the class. The systems concepts have been specified as:
daviding January 18th, 2016
Synergy is a term that is sometimes used by laymen that could use some more clarification. The Oxford English Dictionary defines synergy as:
The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects: ‘the synergy between artist and record company’
Origin: Mid 19th century: from Greek sunergos ‘working together’, from sun- ‘together’ + ergon ‘work’.
A common understanding is that synergy means that “a whole that is more than the sum of its parts”. Since I’ve said that “Systems thinking is a perspective on parts, wholes, and their relations”, a richer appreciation may come through working through a selective history on parts and wholes. Let’s step through:
A challenge in appreciating a whole is: what is meant by more than? In addition, is there a possibility for a whole to be less than the sum of its parts? The formalization of systems theory (in the modern sense) didn’t really rise until the 1950s, so rather than going back to ancient Greek philosophers, let’s start in the 20th century.
Holism was coined as a term in the 1920s. Jan Smuts was an amateur botanist, better known as a statesman, soldier and prime minister (1919-1924, 1939-1948) of South Africa. The Encyclopedia Britannica writes:
Until he went to school at the age of 12, Smuts lived the life of a South African farm boy, taking his share in the work of the farm, learning from nature, and developing a life-long love of the land. Many years later, when asked by an American botanist why he, a general, should be an authority on grasses, Smuts replied, “But my dear lady, I am only a general in my spare time.”
Smuts’ career in politics and passion for botany shows up in appreciating a whole as more than mechanism. In the 1926 book Holism and Evolution, he wrote:
The whole is not a mere mechanical system. It consists indeed of parts, but it is more than the sum of its parts, which a purely mechanical system necessarily is. The essence of a mechanical system is the absence of all inwardness, of all inner tendencies and relations and activities of the system or its parts. [….]
A whole, which is more than the sum of its parts, has something internal, some inwardness of structure and function, some specific inner relations, some internality of character or nature, which constitutes that more. And it is for us in this inquiry to try to elucidate what that more is. The point to grasp at this stage is that, while the mechanical theory assumes only external action as alone capable of mathematical treatment, and banishes all inner action, relation or function, the theory of the whole, on the contrary, is based on the assumption that in addition to external action between bodies, there is also an additional interior element or action of bodies which are wholes, and that this element or action is of a specific ascertainable character. [Smuts 1926, pp. 103-104, editorial paragraphing and emphasis added]
Wholes are therefore composites which have an internal structure, function or character which clearly differentiates them from mere mechanical additions or constructions, such as science assumes on the mechanical hypothesis. And this internal element which transforms a mere mechanical addition or sum into a whole shows a progressive development in Nature. Wholes are dynamic, organic, evolutionary, creative. The mere idea of creativeness should be enough to negative the purely mechanical conception of the universe.
It is very important to recognise that the whole is not something additional to the parts: it is the parts in a definite structural arrangement and with mutual activities that constitute the whole. The structure and the activities differ in character according to the stage of development of the whole; but the whole is just this specific structure of parts with their appropriate activities and functions. Thus water as a chemical compound is, as we have seen, a whole in a limited sense, an incipient whole, differing qualitatively from its uncompounded elements Hydrogen and Oxygen in a mere state of mixture; it is a new specific structure with new physical and chemical properties. The whole as a biological organism is an immensely more complex structure with vastly more complex activities and functions than a mere chemical compound. But it must not be conceived as something over and above its parts in their structural synthesis, including the unique activities, and functions which accompany this synthesis. It is the very essence of the concept of the whole that the parts are together in a unique specific combination, in a specific internal relatedness, in a creative synthesis which differentiates it from all other forms of combination or togetherness. The combination of the elements into this structure is in a sense creative, that is to say, creative of new structure and new properties and functions. These properties and functions have themselves a creative or holistic character, as we shall see in the sequel. At the start the fact of structure is all-important in wholes, but as we ascend the scale of wholes, we see structure becoming secondary to function, we see function becoming the dominant feature of the whole, we see it as a correlation of all the activities of the structure and effecting new syntheses which are more and more of a creative character. [Smuts 1926, pp 104-105, emphasis added]
Smuts’ larger work on holism brings up ideas of creative activity, progress and development of wholes, so evolution and time are also involved. Let’s skip forward a decade into another field.
Gestalt, says wiktionary, is a German word that doesn’t have quite the same sense in English. Gestalt psychology focuses on innate mental laws leading to principles of perception. A core idea, attributed to Kurt Koffka, was that a whole could be perceived as a shape or form, with parts as secondary. One of Koffka’s associate, Grace Heider, commented on the much misquoted phrase from her memory at a meeting circa 1932.
I also remember [Kurt Koffa] making a fine distinction when a questioner asked him whether Gestalt psychology wasn’t mostly a matter of saying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts: “No, what we mean is that the whole is different from the sum of its parts.” [Heider 1977, editorial emphasis added]
daviding January 3rd, 2016
Posted In: systems
For a class on Service Science at the U. of Toronto iSchool Master of Information program, Kelly Lyons granted me the luxury of 2 hours of time. In a relatively small classroom, she asked me to enable more interaction with the students. With an orientation more towards theory in service science, I decided to use the slides for “Service Systems Thinking: An Introduction” that I had presented earlier in the month in Finland, but to start in a different place. Thus, the lecture began in part 6, with three topics:
This discussion opened with science as episteme, techne and phronesis. The context of architectural programming as problem seeking opened up a conversation about what researchers and practitioners are doing with service science. Towards concreteness in methods, the transition from structured methods to agile development was compared with action research.
Here are audio recordings of the lecture, in two parts. (Video is so much more work!)
|Part 1 Audio||[20151026_1830_UToronto_Ing_IntroServiceSystemsThinking_1.MP3]
|Part 2 Audio||[20151026_1950_UToronto_Ing_IntroServiceSystemsThinking_2.MP3]
After the philosophical introduction, circling back to the beginning of the slide deck placed more emphasis on understanding the perspective of bringing systems thinking into service science. We then rolled through content that has been (or will be covered) in the course, from a different orientation.
In the audio, there’s some banter back and forth with Kelly Lyons, who has been active in service science since its beginning. While she paces students through content over a semester, I unfortunately only lecture occasionally at universities, so I cover a lot of ground. Making digital recordings available is a favour for listeners who prefer to use a pause button to think and reflect.
daviding November 9th, 2015