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Two weeks ago, I wrote a generic post related to System Thinking, in my opinion, a must-have skill for the 21st century (and beyond). Have a look at the post on LinkedIn; in particular interesting to see the discussion related to Systems Thinking: a must-have skill for the 21st century.

I liked Remy Fannader’s remark that thinking about complexity was not something new.

This remark is understandable from his personal context. Many people enjoy thinking – it was a respected 20th-century skill.

However, I believe, as Daniel Kahneman describes in his famous book: Thinking Fast and Slow, our brain is trying to avoid thinking.

This is because thinking consumes energy, the energy the body wants to save in the case of an emergency.

So let’s do a simple test (coming from Daniel):

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A bat and a ball cost together $ 1.10 –  the bat costs one dollar more than the ball. So how much does the ball cost?

Look at the answer at the bottom of this post. If you have it wrong, you are a fast thinker. And this brings me to my next point. Our brain does not want to think deeply; we want fast and simple solutions. This is a challenge in a complex society as now we hear real-time information coming from all around the world. What is true and what is fake is hard to judge.

However, according to Kahneman, we do not want to waste energy on thinking. We create or adhere to simple solutions allowing our brains to feel relaxed.

This human behavior has always been exploited by populists and dictators: avoid complexity because, in this way, you lose people. Yuval Harari builds upon this with his claim that to align many people, you need a myth. I wrote about the need for myths in the PLM space a few times, e.g., PLM as a myth? and The myth perception

And this is where my second thoughts related to Systems Thinking started. Is the majority of people able and willing to digest complex problems?

My doubts grew bigger when I had several discussions about fighting climate change and sustainability.

 

 

Both Brains required

By coincidence, I bumped on this interesting article Market-led Sustainability is a ‘Fix that Fails’…

I provided a link to the post indirectly through LinkedIn. If you are a LinkedIn PLM Global Green Alliance member, you can see below the article an interesting analysis related to market-led sustainability, system thinking and economics.

Join the PLM Global Green Alliance group to be part of the full discussion; otherwise, I recommend you visit Both Brains Required, where you can find the source article and other related content.

It is a great article with great images illustrating the need for systems thinking and sustainability. All information is there to help you realize that sustainability is not just a left-brain exercise.

The left brain is supposed to be logical and analytical. That’s systems thinking, you might say quickly. However, the other part of our brain is about our human behavior, and this side is mostly overlooked. My favorite quote from the article:

Voluntary Market-Led activities are not so much a solution to the sustainability crisis as a symptom of more profoundly unsustainable foundations of human behavior.

The article triggered my second thoughts related to systems thinking. Behavioral change is not part of systems thinking. It is another dimension harder to address and even harder to focus on sustainability.

The LinkedIn discussion below the article Market-led Sustainability is a ‘Fix that Fails’… is a great example of the talks we would like to have in our PLM Global Green Alliance group. Nina Dar, Patrick Hillberg and Richard McFall brought in several points worth discussing. Too many to discuss them all here – let’s take two fundamental issues:

1. More than economics

An interesting viewpoint in this discussion was the relation to economics. We don’t believe that economic growth is the main point to measure. Even a statement like:  “Sustainable businesses will be more profitable than traditional ones” is misleading when companies are measured by shareholder value or EBIT (Earnings Before Interest or Taxes). We briefly touched on Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics.

This HBR article mentioned in the discussion: Business Schools Must Do More to Address the Climate Crisis also shows it is not just about systems thinking.
We discussed the challenges of supply chains, not about resilience but about sustainability. Where an OEM can claim to be sustainable, there are often not aware of what happens at the level of their suppliers. As the OEM measure their suppliers mostly on Quality/Reliability and Cost, they usually do not care about local human issues or sustainability issues.

We have seen this in the Apparel industry with the horrible collapse of a factory in Bangladesh  (2013). Still, the inhumane accidents happen in southeast Asia. I like to quote Chris Calverley in his LinkedIn article: Making ethical apparel supply chains achievable on a global scale.

 

No one gets into business because they want to behave unethically. On the contrary, a lack of ethics is usually driven by a common desire to operate more efficiently and increase profit margins. 

In my last post, I shared a similar example from an automotive tier 2  supplier. Unfortunately, suppliers are not measured or rewarded for sustainability efforts; only efficiency and costs are relevant.

The seventeen Sustainability Development Goals (SDG), as defined by the United Nations, are the best guidance for sustainable drivers beyond money. Supporting the SDGs enforce systems thinking when developing a part, a product, or a solution. Many other stakeholders need to be taken care of, at least if you truly support sustainability as a company.

2. The downside of social media

The LinkedIn discussion related to Market-led Sustainability is a ‘Fix that Fails’… The thread shows that LinkedIn, like other social media, is not really interested in supporting in-depth discussions – try to navigate what has been said in chronological order. With Patrick, Nina and Richard, we agreed to organize a follow-up discussion in our PLM Global Green Alliance Group.

And although we are happy with social media as it allows each of us to reach a global audience, there seems to be a worrying contra-productive impact. If you read the book Stolen Focus. A quote:

All over the world, our ability to pay attention is collapsing. In the US, college students now focus on one task for only 65 seconds, and office workers, on average, manage only three minutes

This is worrying, returning to Remy Fannader’s remark: thinking about complexity was not something new. The main difference is that it is not new. However, our society is changing towards thinking too fast, not rewarding systems thinking.

Even scarier, if you have time, read this article from The Atlantic: about the impact of social media on the US Society. It is about trust in science and data. Are we facing the new (Trump) Tower of Babel in our modern society? As the writers state: Babel is a metaphor for what some forms of social media have done to nearly all of the groups and institutions most important to the country’s future—and to us as a people.

 

I have talked in previous posts about the Dunner-Kruger effect, something that is blocking systems thinking. The image to the left says it all. Due to social media and the safe place behind a keyboard, many of us consider ourselves confident experts explaining to the real expert why they are wrong. For addressing the topics of sustainability and climate change, this attitude is killing. It is the opposite of systems thinking, which costs energy.

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Congratulations

support

The fact that you reached this part of the post means your attention span has been larger than 3 minutes, showing there is hope for people like you and me. As an experiment to discover how many people read the post till here, please answer with the “support” icon if you have reached this part of the post.

I am curious to learn how many of us who saw the post came here.

 

Conclusion

Systems Thinking is a must-have skill for the 21st century. Many of us working in the PLM domain focus on providing support for systems thinking, particularly Life Cycle Assessment capabilities. However, the discussion with Patrick Hillberg, Nina Darr and Richard McFall made me realize there is more: economics and human behavior. For example, can we change our economic models, measuring companies not only for the money profit they deliver? What do?

Answering this type of question will be the extended mission for PLM consultants of the future – are you ready?

 

The answer to the question with the ball and the bat:

A fast answer would say the price of the ball is 10 cents. However, this would make the price of the bat $1.10, giving a total cost of $1.20. So the right answer should be 5 cents. To be honest, I got tricked the first time too. Never too late to confirm you make mistakes, as only people who do not do anything make no mistakes.

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