Systems Thinking And Saving The Planet

Looking at the post title you might be forgiven for thinking that I have gone mad. Please bear with me for a few minutes.

This week I attended an online lecture all about Smart Cities which also touched on technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things just in case you missed this acronym).

We have a tendency to fixate on technology because it apparently gives us something such as speed, connectivity, big data or simply control.

The main learning point for me was not the technology, although it can help. The main point was about the systemic nature of smart cities.

The technology is no good if we track the movement of people but don’t plug this into public transport or traffic management or if we generate lots of heat in manufacturing but fail to divert this for other uses such as heating houses.

Everything must be considered and be part of the system.

For a really good example use Google and lookup Copenhagen on the internet. But as someone said, a city is not a computer.

So far I have mentioned Systems Thinking and IoT, but what about Save The Planet?

Last night was the inaugural Earthshot Prize event where 5 projects each get £1 million to scale up their ideas to help save the planet. This is the first of 10 annual events that we all hope will help our planet.

As people get inspired, the applications each year will get more and more interesting. I was going to use the word ‘innovative’ but they need not be. Last night we had some great ideas from growing coral rapidly, producing clean hydrogen and helping protect and grow rain forests.

And one of the things that connected all of them, even though they did not know it whilst developing their ideas, was the fact that they were all part of a system!

The coral is a habitat for marine creatures and reefs help to dissipate wave energy, the clean hydrogen will help fuel us without hurting the planet and creating more rainforests will help clean our climate.

These things do not compete, they all work together.

So apart from asking readers to take part in preserving the planet, what is the point?

Systems Thinking used to be fashionable, like Design Thinking or Innovation but it is important. Most of what we experience is part of a system, nothing works on its own.

To prove this think of something complex like a game of chess. Yes, you can play yourself but in a system, individual components tend to behave differently when they are all plugged together.

Hence the reason for the image at the top of this email. The first time you came across Monopoly you probably took it out of the box, read the instructions and created a strategy as to how you would win.

When you sat down to play with several others I am guessing that the game did not go according to plan. You might still have won but the other players (system components) had an effect.

As individuals, we are all part of a system (the planet) and as business owners, we might also be part of a system (consider where your business boundary really is) without realising it.

So give Systems Thinking a whirl and see if the whole can be made greater than the sum of the parts (and don’t forget to look up Copenhagen as a smart city example)!

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