How to Make Systems Mapping More Accessible

April 9, 2021

The purpose of this post is to make systems mapping more accessible to funders, institutional leaders, and consultants by identifying six characteristics of effective maps. We describe common misunderstandings, principles, and practices related to each of these characteristics. 

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Learning to Manage Complexity – 4 Tools

April 17, 2019

This post builds on the previous one, “Learning to Manage Complexity – 5 Strategies” by introducing four tools for managing complexity: negotiate SMART agreements; clarify multiple roles; manage communication channels wisely – meetings and email; and break down priorities into manageable time frames. 

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Learning to Manage Complexity – 5 Strategies

March 8, 2019

Organizations which seek to embrace complexity can implement five strategies to manage it more effectively. These are 1) thinking differently about complexity, 2) thinking differently about collaboration, 3) thinking differently about productivity, 4) holding firm to a limited set of priorities, and 5) organization redesign. 

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The Challenge of Digesting Complexity

January 25, 2019

Learn why nonprofit organizations with great aspirations and an appetite for tackling complex issues frequently find it difficult to manage or digest the complexity they seek to embrace.

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Applied Systems Thinking: A Self-Study Guide

November 27, 2018

Many people ask how they can further their learning about applied systems thinking. Depending on your experience so far, here are some recommended pathways. They include: books, articles, online courses, online videos and podcasts, and project-based coaching.

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Diffusing Systems Thinking

September 28, 2015

How do you encourage people to think systemically when many people see it as too daunting and difficult to apply? This post identifies five obstacles to systems thinking and fourteen corresponding strategies you can use to engage people in the practice and thereby increase system-wide effectiveness in sustainable ways. 

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Embrace Paradox to Increase Innovation

May 31, 2013

Embracing paradox is a powerful way to turn dysfunctional conflict into productive thinking, innovative solutions, and high performance. You can learn to not only value paradox but also cultivate it, and not only cultivate it but also make it work for you.

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What to Do When You Have Too Many Goals

May 3, 2013

When you are confronted by a long list of priorities, limited resources, and people defending their own work, consider sequencing vs. prioritizing to develop an effective strategy.

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 Systems Thinking – It’s Not (Just) What You Think

February 28, 2013

Viewing systems thinking as just a mental discipline misses the richness and breadth of the approach – which actually includes emotional, physical, and spiritual dimensions as well. Integrating all of these dimensions increases your effectiveness in applying systems thinking to meet the complex challenges that organizations and other systems face.

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 Systems Thinking As a Spiritual Practice

November 30, 2012

Systems thinking can be viewed as a spiritual practice which involves seeing connections, making positive choices, and cultivating personal strengths. When approached from this perspective, the work of systems thinking is to enable people to uncover and make connections in service of the whole.

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Harvesting Systems Thinking Wisdom with guest
 Mike Goodman



Our Work Is Connected – But We’re Not

September 26, 2019

Our recent work with nonprofit service providers committed to reducing poverty has uncovered a concern shared by many of them across a wide range of communities, “Although our work is connected, we’re not connected to each other.” This blog post describes the costs incurred by all stakeholders when nonprofit service providers fail to collaborate, uses systems thinking to explain why collaboration is so difficult despite the shared aspirations held by many of these providers and identifies four strategies for enabling providers to increase their individual and collective impact while leveraging limited resources.

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Leading Systemic Change: The I/WE/IT Framework

January 5, 2017

In order to lead systemic change, learn to access levers at the individual, collective or relational, and systems levels. The I/WE/IT framework enables leaders to cultivate a viewpoint of personal responsibility for change, strengthen collaborations, and identify high-leverage interventions.

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Shifting Organizational Boundaries

March 27, 2014

Learn three ways of expanding organizational boundaries to adapt to changing conditions, and when maintaining firm boundaries is the better alternative. 

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Key Organizational Boundaries from a Systems Perspective

February 25, 2014

Systems complexity requires organizations to define 3 key boundaries: their purpose, supporting goals/metrics/and incentives, and underlying beliefs and assumptions.

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Why Boundaries Are Important in a Boundary-less World

January 30, 2014

You might conclude that boundaries are becoming increasingly irrelevant in
the face of such factors as global competition and 24/7 technology. However, the opposite is true: this world of growing complexity actually demands that we both respect and set limits for personal and organizational effectiveness.

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Managing Business Growth at Preventure

July 31, 2013

Success is only sustainable if you learn to anticipate and overcome natural limits to your current growth and deliberately cultivate new ways to grow. Learn how Preventure, a rapidly growing health and wellness services company, is addressing this challenge.

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Inspired by Lincoln

March 31, 2013

In today’s increasingly turbulent world characterized by seemingly intractable conflicts, it is helpful to learn what motivated President Lincoln and how he helped the U.S. reconcile the deep divisions that erupted in the Civil War. His two primary strengths were maintaining inner stability in the midst of outer turbulence and working constructively with conflict.

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Thinking And Acting Systemically

May 15, 2012

Developing the awareness and will to make fundamental individual changes comes from thinking systemically. Developing the ability to implement these changes in service of the whole is a result of acting systemically.

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Good Intentions Are Not Enough

April 10, 2012

Lewis Thomas, the award-winning medical essayist, observed, “When you are confronted by any complex social system … with things about it that you’re dissatisfied with and anxious to fix, you cannot just step in and set about fixing with much hope of helping. This is one of the sore discouragements of our time.”

Consider the following headlines all based on true stories, which epitomize Thomas’s insight:

  • Shelters increase homelessness
  • Food aid increases starvation
  • Drug busts increase drug-related crime
  • Job training programs increase unemployment

 These stories share specific characteristics:

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When Progress Isn’t: The Case of Gas-Fired Power Plants

July 26, 2021

Learn why reducing carbon emissions by investing in gas-fired power plants undermines our ability to mitigate climate change in the long-term.

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How to make systems Mapping More Accessible

April 9, 2021

Systems thinking is a far more accessible approach than you might think. People are often discouraged from applying it because they equate it with drawing very complex systems maps.
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Confronting the Rise of Authoritarian Leadership

November 18, 2020

Learn why authoritarian leaders are becoming more popular in developed nations, and what we can do to strengthen support for democracy.

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How Wealth Inequality Compounds Racism

August 20, 2020

Our combined outrage at the brutal treatment of Black people by police and the differential impact of COVID on people of color who comprise essential

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Systems Thinking and COVID-19

May 1, 2020

How does systems thinking help us understand the COVID-19 crisis? What are the implications of a systems view for responding more effectively to this crisis

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The Challenge of Digesting Complexity

January 25, 2019

Learn why nonprofit organizations with great aspirations and an appetite for tackling complex issues frequently find it difficult to manage or digest the complexity they seek to embrace.

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Beyond the Messy Truth: Review of Van Jones’ New Book

December 9, 2017

“I believe that this country needs both liberals and conservatives. And we need both traditions at their best and highest expressions, especially now.” So writes Van Jones, a highly regarded CNN political contributor, leader of numerous social and justice organizations, and former special adviser to the Obama White House, in his outstanding new book Beyond the Messy Truth. This post reviews Jones’ book as it challenges liberals and conservatives alike to be true to their ideals and draw on the best of their traditions to reform the criminal justice system, stem the opioid crisis, and create 21st century jobs.

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Developing a Mindful Nation Through Applied Systems Thinking

April 20, 2017

Inspired by Congressman Tim Ryan’s book A Mindful Nation, this post identifies and encourages readers to cultivate connections across mindfulness, systems thinking, and public policy-making. It shows the numerous similarities between mindfulness and systems thinking, and it describes the role that both can play in facilitating not only social change but also transforming the fear-based, symptom-focused, blaming behaviors that govern an increasing part of our political discourse.

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The Ironic Addictions of Policy Makers

December 31, 2012

Policy makers who seek to protect society from people struggling with substance abuse often end up becoming addicts themselves. They become addicted, albeit unwittingly, to quick fix solutions which temporarily address social problems but undermine society’s ability to implement more permanent and fundamental solutions.

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