In all the books and research papers on systems thinking that I have read, I don’t think I have yet found the word courage as part of the language used. There is a lot written about systems thinking in terms of it’s relevance and importance, it’s theories and methodologies, but nothing about what it takes — emotionally. And I’m convinced: systems thinking not only requires skill, it also takes courage.
I was invited as a keynote speaker to the 9th Brazilian Congress of Systems in Palmas, Brazil. My colleague, Raul Espejo, was the speaker who opened the conference. His presentation was about learning to act systemically. He ended his presentation with a poignant statement: “Systemic sensibility is an ethical imperative.” He said systemic sensibility. How perfect for me: That was the focus of my presentation– the need to move from systems thinking to systems feeling, being and doing. A true systems thinker will continually ask the difficult questions that expand the boundaries of the inquiry. But it takes courage to ask those big questions (usually beginning with why? and why not?) that take us to the root of a problem; where we usually find that we are an integral part of it, and that change will involve changing ourselves. What kind of an economic system, educational system, health care system, food production system, or political system works in accordance to life-sustaining principles? The answer is: The ones we need to design. We already have the knowledge and technology to create them. Now we need the courage.