Do systems exist?

to understand is to know what to do

As soon as you really think about it, boundaries dissolve, connections appear. Everything is nebulous.

…sounds a bit woo-woo? *Of course* systems exist – we interact with them all the time, and we can model and understand them. Not always, not every time, but reliably and with great predictability. Systems engineers got people to the moon. There are deep, underlying laws of our universe. We don’t call these boundaries into being magically by the power of our brainboxes – yet…

We also know that our view can change. Paradigm shifts actually happen. Something we misunderstood resolves into clarity.

So. There’s no definitive system in the world – it depends how you see a situation. But something is ‘real’, something constraints our possibilities in specific ways.

The problem is the question.

We’re inside a loop of understanding. It makes sense to act as if the world is real, when it makes sense. But as soon as we believe that our understanding *is* the reality, we’re heading for trouble. It’s not that ‘the map is not the territory’ – every time we think we know the territory, it’s just another map.


Here’s my interview from this year’s Systemic Leadership Summit where I discussed some of this with Jennifer Campbell:

And if you want to dig deeper into how profoundly practical this stuff is for organisational and ‘system’ transformation, ask me about the RedQuadrant tool shed

An invitation to the RedQuadrant tool shed

#systemsthinking #complexity #metarationality

2 thoughts on “Do systems exist?

  1. Only to blame things.

    During my days in Information Systems Design, I concluded that when we don’t understand something, we use the word “system”. As a systems engineer explained me something, while using the word system, I asked him to explain it again, without using the word system. Usually, they couldn’t.

    I’m very fond of the Thomas and Thomas Principle. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._I._Thomas

    “It is not important whether or not the interpretation is correct — if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”
    — W. I. Thomas & Dorothy Swaine Thomas, The Child in America}

    So when the consequences of a system are real, we define the system as real. Handy, because now when we don’t understand something, we can blame it on the system. “Computer says no”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_says_no

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s