System Thinking — Emergence to Essence – A Case

Nothing in existence exists independently. Everything is interconnected and interrelated. And all that we see happening around us are due to such interconnectedness and interrelationships. How is this understanding helpful?

It helps us to correctly explain what is going on around us. But we do so in a completely different way. We don't look at an object or an element to understand why it is behaving in a particular manner. We look at and examine the relationships between the objects and elements to find the answer to vexing questions of why things behave the way they behave and how both problems and desirable properties emerge out of such relationships. We call this set of relationship 'a system'. This method of enquiry also helps us to uncover the simplest solutions and take the right decisions to 'make things happen' that helps us, our societies and our development.

Of course, this knowledge is not new to us. As human beings we know of this at least for the last 5000 years. Today we speak of this method of thinking and enquiry and finding effective solutions as System Thinking. It is also known as holistic thinking.

But why don't we apply this concept regularly? Surely, it would have made life much easier for all of us. The difficulty lies in understanding as to where to start our mental enquiry, how do we proceed and explore and how far and deep we must go to understand the relationships (the boundary of a system) that would be sufficient for our purpose.

These are of course very tricky issues that certainly can baffle us more so because the entire method of enquiry is mental.

The paradox is: 'What we see is not what we wish to find and what is to be found is not what we can see'.

Therefore, my method is to start off the enquiry by understanding the 'emergence' of a system. In plain terms 'emergence' is a set of behavior a system exhibits. This set of behavior would then contain two subsets. One of these subset would contain a set of desirable behavior; that which makes us happy. The other subset is a set of behavior that is undesirable or behaviors that make us very unhappy. We call this as a 'set of problems' or a 'mess'.

So, we start our journey by examining this 'mess'. We then proceed cautiously to find the existing relationships till we find the essence (a particular relationship or a set of relationship) that explains the 'mess' and helps us find the easiest and simplest solution.

Let me illustrate this exciting journey through an example.

In a certain power plant the non-drive end bearing of an ID(Induced Draft) Fan was failing quite often. It was intriguing since other bearings of the fan were not failing at all. What was more intriguing was the fact that right next to this ID fan there was another ID fan, exactly similar, doing exactly the same thing, operating exactly under the same conditions, but was not failing at all.

All efforts to examine in depth the failed bearings to find out the causes and the probable solutions failed. No wonder it did. In system thinking this is the basic principle. We cannot explain a phenomenon or find the right solution to a problem by looking and examining a part of the system. This is simply because the part doesn't exist by itself. In other words, the principle might be expressed as the 'whole' is greater than the sum of the 'parts'.

However, finding a solution in this way also excites me. Why? Because we not only find the most effective solution but also the SIMPLEST one that might be implemented quite easily. So, till I find the simplest solution I know that there are more relationships in the system to be uncovered and therefore I keep extending the system boundary till I find the essential relationship (essence) that provides us the cause of the 'mess' and also the simplest solution.

In this case you would find how a strong but invisible relationship (essence) was causing the 'wicked' problem (emergence) and once found how amazingly simple the solution was! Find it exciting? Click the presentation (attached below) to enjoy this case of finding the invisible link to find the simplest solution to a very baffling and wicked problem that could be easily implemented…


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