Sunday, October 4, 2009

Systems thinking and the visual mapper

Philippe Boukobza and Wallace Tait


Systems thinking, what is it? Well, a quick web search and you'll be offered all kinds of links to systems and information management sites. Our definition of systems thinking at the core level: “Systems thinking is a consideration of data, information and knowledge as independent yet interdependent processes”. Systems thinking is, in our experience, realized when one starts to use the tools, methods and mindset of Visual mapping to map out processes, and at the same time see the bigger systems picture.

Think of systems thinking as you would view our planetary system our system is made up of a sun, planets and moons. The sun is the focus, the planets being independent bodies, and the moons being the support to the planets.

Now look again at system as a mind map; do you see independence yet interdependence of the elements of this system? Independent because this system, is independent of other systems that may be in existence, and interdependent because this system indeed needs and relies on each and every part of this existing system to express harmony and uniformity.

How can we correlate Systems thinking with Visual Mapping? The Systems Thinking approach shows how, within a system, the different elements of this system influence each another and makes a Whole that is not just the sum of the different elements.

Creating a visual map is like constructing a model that shows those interactions between the different elements. By organizing various separated elements, the map brings coherence and facilitates the emergence of a new order.

When one starts to use the tools and techniques of visual mapping, it's clear that a change takes place in users thinking processes. The change is noted in a shift from linear information and knowledge understanding, to a more non-linear format.

Linear formats shall, for the most part, be the norm for the foreseeable future: linear approaches to information management are indeed ingrained into our societal behaviors.

The use of Visual mapping though, infuses and enforces one to view, the information creation, management and exchange flow as, process oriented at the base level and systematic at the higher level. This is indeed essential to understanding information and knowledge development.

Where is systems thinking and Visual mapping best used?
A deeper level of knowledge management relating to systems standards which includes:

Of course there are many other uses you'll discover along the way. So, you may realize by now that Systems thinking and Visual mapping indeed have a close correlation.

Associated and related functions of systems thinking: If you’re involved with business at any level especially in this century, the term Continuous improvement (CI) has become common to our business language.

The PDSA process: PLAN, DO, STUDY, ACT. This is the continuous motivator to the Continuous improvement process. The effective and efficient use of CI within arenas such as business and education, Enforce us to begin to think of knowledge and information as being a system. Systems that must by nature further develop and continuously improve.

What's the future for this synergy of Systems thinking and Visual mapping?

Well; we firmly believe you can see this result in and through the use of Visual mapping software. With the further development of Visual mapping applications, we are seeing, the needs of personal users, society, and business being met in relation to process and systems thinking.

Database functions are being demanded of software developers, and I see the addition of this function being a standard inclusion.

Getting Things Done (GTD), the famous method created by David Allen uses both systems thinking approach and visual mapping for organizing the tasks. GTD consider our activity as a workflow you can improve by using the right process and understanding it as a system. It relies on 5 principles (see the map below)

There is one more aspect of being a visual mapping systems thinker. When we have mastered the visual mapping tools, methods and mindset, we invariably develop a superior ability to integrate linear with non linear. We understand the importance of both poles of expressions, and use them to the appropriate degree. We become an “integrated thinker”. One who has the ability to see the independence of a system on all associated interdependent processes? Simply put: “the process is in the process”.

Have you experienced a shift in your perceptions of process and system while becoming a visual mapper? Share your story here.

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