One of the first things I did when starting out with systems thinking was to learn some of the basic diagramming techniques. The Open University has a brilliant resource to help you learn them. It can be found here:

I will go through them one at a time and give you some examples of how I have used them. But, its worth taking a look at the Open University resource first. Stick with it. They can be a little difficult at first, but if you persevere it’s worth it.

Diagrams are extremely powerful. They are a principal method of communication in systems thinking. They can show explicitly on one page what you might take pages of text to describe. This is particularly true when trying to show others interconnectivity in complex situations. Once you have mastered the art of diagramming, you will wonder how you ever managed without it.

Rich Pictures

Ever wondered how to convey a difficult message without using words?……use a rich picture!

This non-threatening form of communication can be your saviour when trying to relay difficult messages, particularly about culture or multiple perspectives. They are also excellent for revealing that which resides in our subconscious. The invisible brick walls become visible, the hamster wheels we run on are revealed and inter-team disputes can be expressed without using individuals’ words.

Rich Pictures are a diagramming technique developed by Peter Checkland as part of Soft Systems Methodology (Checkland, P.B. 1993 Systems thinking, Systems Theory. Chichester, England: John Wiley and Sons Ltd). Not only do they allow us to convey information about complex situations in a non-confrontational way, they can also provide new insight about those situations too.

What do rich pictures look like and how do I draw them?

Consider the situation you are trying to depict. Then, express what you observe through pictures. Use visual metaphors, symbols, cartoons etc. Anything you find useful. Attempting to put your thoughts into pictures will help the thinking process.

Stand back and take a look at your drawing. Are any hidden messages coming through?

These diagrams are concise, quick, and assist in developing shared understanding amongst stakeholders.

Look at the rich picture here:

rich picture

What are the issues in the situation?

Who is involved?

What is the impact of those issues?

Can you see any future opportunities?

Underlying mental models can often be exposed through rich pictures. Sharing in a visual way can be a very powerful tool.



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