Systems Intelligence Part 7: Reflections on the complexities involved to develop “3D systems intelligence”

By Andy Thomson, enkel & Holonic

This is part 7 of a seven-part series about ‘systems intelligence’. The case for transcending typical systemic approaches to developing a regenerative economy. The other parts are here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

In this last post I will share some reflections on the previous six posts.

irstly it is impossible, because of the complexities involved, to develop complete “3D systems intelligence” and a full understanding of our reality. One cannot zoom out and look down physically on reality at different scales and appreciate every perspective and intertwined causal interaction. Therefore one’s perception of reality and how they frame and discuss it with others, regardless of the status or authority of the perceptions it builds upon, is ultimately a construct as there is always subjective choice.

“3D systems intelligence”, from my experience, therefore goes beyond just having a better ability to think and reflect on systems within systems or appreciate better complexity, to the appreciation of the existence of one’s own “systems ignorance”. This includes recognising the existence of multiple perceptions as well as one’s blind spots and biases that influence what we consider relevant and where we decide to draw boundaries in deeming what is inside and outside of the system of study.

Transcending paradigms, approaches and ultimately perspectives as discussed here is therefore not about creating an integrated paradigm, approach or formulating a grand plan or model that renders the others redundant. It is about the ability of staying flexible, appreciating our “systems ignorance”, and recognising WE are all interdependent parts, or holons, of the bigger system. The following quote by futurist José Ramos articulates part of what this series and its process tried to do.

“This is the challenge in the movement toward holism — to retain the veracity of context specific understanding, based on diverse experiences, while also moving toward coherence. It is not in the integration of a diversity of elements into a single model where we will find holism, but rather I believe it is to be found in an ongoing relational process of dialogue across diversities, where holisms can emerge as aspects of our ongoing journeys.”

However, not acknowledging one’s “systems ignorance” or having a conversation or interaction with people that do not acknowledge, or are unaware of their own, invariably tends towards division in my experience. Equally, the difficulties that come in actually framing, communicating and discussing the complexity of the issues discussed here can also be a hugely divisive force. Avoiding oversimplification, saturation and/or misinterpretation is fraught with difficulties and requires highly developed systems communications skills.

It is also argued that in most cases a space, outline of intentions and/or identity of sorts is also required to encourage dialogue, which are ultimately constraints. Unfortunately it is easy to fall, and/or been seen falling, into the paradigm approach trap outlining what might be interpreted as a third approach that does not transcend, or has a bias towards one of the approaches. Finding this balance between wanting to engage and provide constraints and staying neutral is fraught with difficulties.

These learnings obviously apply to my own “3D systems intelligence/ignorance” and systems communications skills. Rather than developing clearly and constantly over time, I have sensed they ebb and flow as they are not habitual and actually require practice and exercise so that my egocentric and sociocentric biases do not encroach. The best form of exercise for me has been to actually interact and converse with those whose can stay flexible and help you reflect on your “systems ignorance” rationally, as well as productively engaging with those whose hold opposing perspectives but who appreciate their “systems ignorance”.

Having reflected on the benefit of this piece, I have come to concur with complexity expert Dave Snowden, who argues:

“Complexity is not an excuse for saying that any view is valid, that nothing can be done because everything is emergent or what I call naive self-organisation is the only solution. The reality is that complexity means we need to think and act in a different way, not that we cease to do both. We know that constraints of some type are needed for self-organisation in nature so anarchy is not the solution. We know that if we get the granularity of a system right and we understand the interactions we can have a considerable influence on its development.”

In this regard I believe, having used the 3D Systems Intelligence Lens, holarchy diagrams and other concepts explored, that they provide an incomplete but potentially beneficial framework and set of constraints, albeit metaphorical, to help people think and act differently and facilitate self-organisation.



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enkel collective

Collective in Perth, Western Australia with the mission to create a new generation of changemakers.