A call for new thinking in the new systems age

Paul BundickA version of this post originally appeared on Devex. Reposted with permission.

As human development practitioners, we have been talking a lot recently about how a changing world is demanding new approaches to development in the way we finance, implement our projects and measure the results of our work. But what has been missing is a discussion about how to change the way we think about the world and mental models we use as we try to make our world a better place. While we all agree that the world has changed, our mental models lag behind, and we desperately need a mental model upgrade.

Otto Scharmer, an economist, organization theorist and keynote speaker at the upcoming Challenge Conference in Washington, DC, wrote in Leading from the Emerging Future, “The success of our actions as change-makers does not depend on what we do or how we do it, but on the inner place from which we operate.” In other words, our awareness provides the underlying ground out of which our thinking and doing emerge.

We must let go of our tendencies to stand outside the system and instead engage as a part of the system. Share on X

Not so long ago, the world seemed simple and predictable. Linear logic models made our work in human development appear straightforward and controllable. We believed that we only had to find, learn and teach others how to manipulate the right societal levers to drive change and make things function better. Our management guides assured us that the right actions would naturally lead to the right results. We talked about mechanisms for social change as if societies and groups were giant machines.

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1 Response

One Response to “A call for new thinking in the new systems age”

  1. Jennifer Santer on

    Hello, Paul!
    I was doing some research for an upcoming conference in Montreal, and came across this post — nice to see you doing well! I’ve been based in Miami these past 16 years for the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science (formerly Miami Science Museum), which has a strong commitment to informal science education, improving educational access, workforce development, environmental sustainability, and similar themes. (Interestingly, I also recently took part in Otto Sharmer’s MIT ULAB online course that explored the themes you mentioned.) Our museum gets a lot of federal grants from NSF, NIH, DOE and others, and is interested in being a partner on international projects as well. Would be nice to catch up with you and explore opportunities! Regards, Jennifer