It is easy to confine systems thinking to the comfort of the academic forum where exciting concepts tantalise the mind and modelling constructs the solid foundations for thought. But, failing to link this to how people actually think, behave and work in the real world can be a recipe for disaster for systems practitioners. Separating academic concepts and models from behavioural insights, psychology, social neuroscience, but to name a few areas, can be a recipe for at best a failed attempt at applying systems thinking to your situation and at worst, a disaster in the form of a failed piece of work and alienating the very people you are trying to get on board.
So, what do we do if, and when, the transition from academic insight to real world application becomes overwhelming? Who do we turn to and from where do we get our support?
Well, my suggestion would be peer support. It isn’t the one and only thing we can do to get support as systems practitioners but it is immensely valuable. I, for one, certainly wouldn’t want to be a practitioner going it alone without the input from my valued friends and colleagues. Using, sharing and disseminating our practice in the real world in addition to understanding the concepts and modelling techniques in the academic world is vital, not only to our personal success but for the success and development of the discipline.
Our choices for peer support are wide and varied, from using an unstructured medium, such as social media, through to engaging in formal mentoring schemes. There is something out there for each and every one of us.
Personally, I find social media a solid platform from which to give and receive peer support. It minimises feelings of isolation, supports constructive challenge, enables us to share models, concepts and ideas and thus creates inclusion and mutual advancement. Strong relationships can emerge, increasing capacity for personal, relational and community change and growth. It goes one step further than argumentatively challenging the views of those we don’t agree with. It allows us to share our experiences and knowledge and provides mutually beneficial motivation when energy levels are low or challenges seem overwhelming. It is ongoing, accessible, and flexible. There’s no pressure – you can come and go as you please – and engaging across geographical, social and cultural boundaries becomes effortless.
There are many other ways to engage in peer support, of course, so if one way doesn’t suit you, don’t give up but try something else instead. Peer support helps us learn and grow. It helps us support one another and disseminate our thinking to others. It supports us in being successful, which, in turn, helps a whole host of other people also.
Let’s help one another in the practical world. Let’s get systems thinking out there. The only way we can do this is to help and support one another. Don’t keep your practical success under wraps. Get it out there and share how you did it. Encourage newcomers, constructively challenge the experienced and most of all….enjoy it! Systems thinking and practice really doesn’t have to be dry and dull. It can be as exciting, creative and innovative as you want it to be. Share yours widely and most of all…..be proud of it!