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The failure of systems thinking at General Motors

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In the past few weeks, since preparing my remarks for the Harvard class on systems thinking, I have been reflecting on why many large organizations don’t seem able to do it. Often, when I read in the news or listen to tales of corporate dysfunction, I am left thinking that a good dose of big picture thinking might have prevented or solved the problem.  In a surprising number of cases, the central issue seems to be tunnel vision, what we often refer to as silo mentalities, in large organizations. As such, these days I have been busy thinking about questions of the following nature: Just where do the silo mindsets that limit … Continue reading

Connecting systems thinking and leadership

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Here is a concept that has become part of my worldview: Whatever broadens our vision about leadership, influence and how organizations work makes us more aware as managers, and better as systems thinkers.  Looking back, I see a rich learning experience that I perhaps did not fully appreciate when I worked at Atari in 1982-1983. In fact, my thinking about how organizations work evolved a good deal during this time.  As I discussed in the last post, it was at Atari that I began to observe first-hand the importance of seeing outside one’s silo, of learning to be a big picture thinker with a conceptual overview of one’s world. Since that time, … Continue reading

More thoughts on systems thinking, based on my Atari experience

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I have often said or written that we live life moving forward but understand it looking backward. As I wrote briefly last week, my time at Atari in the early 1980s taught me a great deal about the importance of systems thinking in organizations. Of course, I did not know this term at the time, and I believe the expression did not even exist back then. But, years later I “connected the dots”, as Steve Jobs would say, and I have come to realize how valuable the lessons of this time were for me.  As I mentioned before, my specific function at Atari Home Computers was to organize and run … Continue reading

Systems thinking for today’s workers and organizations

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As I wrote last time, it was great fun to go to Harvard and speak to a class on systems thinking, about my views on how we might connect this concept to leadership and personal storytelling. This week and next, I will put some of my thoughts down here.  Since I have no formal training in the field, and since for the first hour of class I watched the students present models to explain a complex problem in terms of causal loops, balancing precesses, or leverage points in a system, I decided to look up a few formal definitions of exactly what “systems thinking” entails.  Here is one that made some sense to … Continue reading

A visit to Harvard to talk about systems thinking

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I ended the last post with the thought that theatre training and acting experience had helped me to become more of a “systems thinker”. By coincidence, this week I made my annual visit to Harvard University, where the theme of my lectures was “systems thinking”. It happened in the class of my friend and colleague Mark Esposito, and I was there to lead a discussion about how we can connect the concepts of systems thinking, leadership and storytelling.  Every time I come to Harvard and re-connect with Mark, I thoroughly enjoy the interaction with his groups. Mark is a remarkable teacher with an ability to stimulate high levels of engagement and … Continue reading

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