Systems thinking: Peter Senge on the limits of learning from experience

The most powerful learning comes from direct experience. Indeed, we learn eating, crawling, walking and communicating through direct trial and error – through taking an action and seeing the consequences of that action; then taking a new and different action. But what happens if we can no longer observe the consequences of our actions? What happens if the primary consequences…

Systems thinking: Gall’s Law

Gall’s Law: A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system. As described by David Perell in his very interesting 50 Ideas That Changed My…

Network theory: Matthew O. Jackson on four types of connectedness

Recommended – link below. 1. The most basic [type of connectedness] that we all think of is just popularity: how many people you connect with. And that’s very natural – we count how many friends we have on Facebook or how many followers you have on Twitter. And that gives a some idea of the reach of a person… and…

The onion strikes back: Maggie Koerth on the nested problems of Covid-19 testing

Covid-19 testing has been a mixed bag: Singapore and Korea seem to have been able to get on top of things quickly, while the UK and US (to pick too) have – at least in comparison – seemed barely able to get their act together at all. Maggie Koerth‘s discussion of the issue with Kevin Kelly and Mark Frauenfelder points…

Contextualising best practice: one size does not fit all

Here’s another example of how “best practice” is context dependent, this time in responses to the Covid-19 crisis: What’s the point? The point – especially for those working with poor or marginalised communities – is that standard “best practice” from other contexts is unlikely to transfer directly to where you’re working. Education, health services, housing policy and politics don’t occur…

Nested problems, nested solutions (8): the leadership and ownership problem

This is part of a series thinking through the different layers involved in solving real-world problems. It’s a sketch of ideas in process. The final layer of the onion is about leadership and responsibility for the whole organisation: setting tone, maintaining or correcting course, and thinking about what needs to happen next to grow it has a healthy, impactful and…

Nested problems, nested solutions (7): Astro Teller on management and organisational culture

Yesterday’s post ended with the tension between designing systems and fostering a culture – writing scripts and setting tone – that will make it possible for an organisation to achieve its goals. In this great – and perfectly timed – interview on the excellent Exponential View podcast with Azeem Azhar, (Google) X’s CEO (or “Chief of Moonshots”) Astro Teller talks…

Nested problems, nested solutions (6): the management problem

This is part of a series thinking through the different layers involved in solving real-world problems. It’s a sketch of ideas in process. So now you’re operating: you’ve got a solution to a problem that people want, and you’ve got the systems and people in place that you need to make it scaleable and repeatable. By now you’ve probably got…

Nested problems, nested solutions (5): operational problems

This is part of a series thinking through the different layers involved in solving real-world problems. It’s a sketch of ideas in process. Once you’ve solved a practical problem, you might be done. You’ve taught the children in front of you to read; you and your neighbours are exercising regularly; you’ve helped a client to change their financial habits for…

Nested problems, nested solutions (4): practical problems

This is part of a series thinking through the different layers involved in solving real-world problems. It’s a sketch of ideas in process. If you’ve solved or ignored your way past your trivial problems and researched your way out of theoretical problems, you’re likely to find yourself facing a practical problem. Practical problems are about bringing the theoretical solutions we…