Leveraging The Complex Systems All Around You

Cory Mazure | 28 Feb, 2023

Even a basic understanding of systems can radically transform your life. The world is full of complex systems and by approaching them with the right framework you can gain insights into the cause and effect relationships that produce a better or worse system. In this article, we'll explore the basics of systems thinking and leave you with actionable knowledge on how to leverage this mindset to achieve your most ambitious goals.

My first introduction with systems thinking was back in college. Although we exist in an integrated world of complex systems, I did not have conscious awareness of this until recently. While in college, I studied mechanical engineering. Throughout my beginner level classes, I was doing okay on my homework and exams, but was spending way too much time and effort to achieve acceptable grades. The main reason for this was because I felt like I was being bombarded by information that did not at all relate to each other while in class. 

I was struggling, not thinking I was cut for engineering, and went to one of my professors for help. Quickly he could see that I was spending too much time off in the weeds, not seeing the big picture. I was spending hours of my days studying and yielding no results because my focus was captured by the wrong information. He quickly sketched out a diagram for me which changed my perspective of the world forever. 

This diagram not only helped me in his class, but it caused me to understand the remainder of my engineering courses with far less confusion. Outside of the classroom, this concept has helped me make radical improvements in my personal development. I now am able to narrow my focus upon the small amount of actions that truly drive results. It has also pulled the curtain back and shown me how large corporations are enslaving the masses to serve their needs. It has made me more aware of the issues with the economy, government, and social media corporations. 

So what did my professor share with me which changed my life forever? 

Well, it is quite simple. So simple in fact, that you certainly already know of it. Even with the awareness of the concept, you most certainly are not putting it into practice and yielding its fruits. This simple concept is that of systems thinking, and the 5 crucial components of every system. 

To fully understand this concept, we must start from the basics and define a few terms. 

Firstly, what is a system? A system is simply an entity which transforms one thing into another. An example of a system we have all interacted with is a car wash. You have the desire for a clean car. You take your dirty car through a process of water, soap, and cleaning devices, and before you know it, you have your clean car! I will let you use your imagination to think of a few more examples of systems.

The next term to define is that of a systems thinker. A systems thinker is a person who can see the complex systems which exist within our world. A systems thinker observes systems and analyzes the 5 pillars of them, gaining insights about cause and effect relationships and the conditions which produce a better or worse system. If we return to the car wash example, a systems thinker would be able to analyze the system before partaking in it. They would understand the 5 aspects of every system and recognize if they want to take part in the perpetuation of the system, by taking their car through the wash. 

Systems thinkers are very valuable in today's society. They can narrow their focus onto the most important information that is present, and leverage to reduce time, money, and energy. If the car wash wants to stay in business, they need a systems thinker on their payroll. Someone must be there to analyze if the system is operating as intended. Are the cars clean when they exit the wash? Are they too clean, meaning we can reduce the amount of water and soap, which are large expenses for this operation? Are we recommending the appropriate settings, or process, for the vehicle that is entering? Did we choose a good location for this business? Do we have enough employees to dry the vehicles once they leave the wash? 

All of these questions are valuable to be answered because they relate to the maintenance and improvement of the system. If you work at the car wash and do not understand the fundamental nature of how the system works, you will be spinning your wheels looking for meaning in areas where there is none. 

If you are not sold on the importance of being a systems thinker just yet, let's take a moment to reflect on the importance of system thinking for achieving our goals. If you are reading this, you most certainly have goals. You are looking for ways to achieve those goals. If you do have a goal, that means you are currently in an undesirable state. You desire to have something you currently do not, which means at the moment you identify something about your life which is undesirable. In order to get that which we lack, we must undergo a transformation process. Much like a dirty car going through the process of the car wash to transform into a clean car, we must go through a self improvement process to achieve the goal we have set. As you can see, the way you achieve your goals is through following a process, which is best achieved when you fully understand the system in which that process operates. 

It is quite obvious that we could all benefit from being a systems thinker. We now understand how systems thinking can prove advantageous to our goals. To make it abundantly clear on how to become a systems thinker, I will now share the framework which I learned in college. It is important to recognize that success is about the application of the little things, consistently, overtime. Depending on where you are in life, this concept may seem simple, but if you never take the time to apply it and engrain it into the way you think, you will suffer from a waste of time, money, effort, and energy. 

There are only 5 parts to every system 

  • Environment
  • Input
  • Process
  • Output
  • Feedback

To solidify this concept, let's return to the car wash example. The environment is the location of the car wash. If you decide to open a car wash in the middle of Alaska, where it is below freezing 11 out of 12 months of the year, you are not going to get customers, and your business will quickly go under. The environment is a crucial aspect of the system. 

Most processes are only possible under the right environmental conditions. Think about baking a cake. The environment is the kitchen, and specifically the oven. The oven must be at the right environmental temperature to make the cake baking work. If the environment is off, the process fails to produce a quality output. 

The input is quite simple. It is whatever is entering the system. It might be a dirty car, or the ingredients you are using to make your cake. You need to understand the condition of the input before it enters the process. If you choose to bake a cake with 3 month old eggs and the wrong type of flower, the cake will taste disgusting. It does not matter if you mix the ingredients properly or have the oven temperature correct if your input ingredients are bad. To ensure you understand this concept properly, always remember the phrase: Garbage in, garbage out. 

The process is certainly the most complex aspect of the entire system. Depending on the system, the process could be hundreds of steps, and several subsystems existing within it. For the car wash, the amount of water hoses, soap systems, brushes, air blowers, etc. are hard to imagine. The process requires a great deal of engineering, but it is still worth trying to understand as a layman.

The output is whatever is pumped out by the process. Before designing a system, you should have an expectation of the output. A standard you want it to be held to. If you do not define what you hope to get out of the system, you are playing a dangerous game. You will waste a lot of time and resources and may create some unintended consequences to your actions. 

Feedback is often overlooked. It is one of the most important parts of a system because it lets you know if the output is up to your standard, and will direct your focus to the other 3 components. If there is ever a problem with your output, you know it must be a problem with the input, process, or environment. It is that simple. You can run an investigation to understand the problem further, but this only occurs when you take in feedback. 

Through this lengthy explanation, I trust you have gained some knowledge about how systems work. It will take some time for you to fully appreciate this concept, and it is best absorbed through application in your own life. One of the best exercises you can do with this knowledge is to begin to understand what systems you fall into, depending on your environment. On our self improvement journeys, the only thing that stands in our way are bad habits. These bad habits are triggered by environmental cues. The environmental cue puts us through a process, or a habit, which results in an undesirable state of mind, farther away from the goals we have set. When you have the understanding of systems, you can leverage it by dismantling the systems in which your bad habits exist. This is one of the primary missions of Pscyence. We strive to help others raise their self awareness over the systems they exist in, and redesign them to encourage progress towards their self defined success criteria. If you are someone who is clear on the desired output, but through reading this can recognize there is a lot of work to do to optimize a system to achieve that output, then we would be happy to help you with just that. We have spent years applying our engineering backgrounds to solving real problems that plague the human condition, and are confident that through a free discovery call, we will be able to identify what areas of your life could be enhanced through the design of a new system. Click the link below to find a time to talk with our team today. https://calendly.com/pscyence/45min

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