I spent much of my career designing and building television systems – TV studios, control rooms, network operations centers – that kind of thing. The work was referred to as Systems Integration because our job was to combine a complex array of equipment that was not always designed to work together, and make them work together. Because everything interacted with everything else, picking something that did not work in the concept of the whole often meant nothing worked right. So every choice was made with a full awareness of how everything else worked together, and how that one piece of gear would influence the entire system.
As my work progressed, and I found success not just in engineering and design, but also in the business side of what I did, systems thinking again came into play. I learned that solving individual problems was most effective when we took into consideration the larger picture as well as the specific issue that needed work. I learned that if I took that approach to decisions it made the process slower, but the decisions better, and in time, if I used the systems approach to thinking, I almost always ended up with a powerful, effective organization. I use that approach in my business consulting. No matter what I am called in to help with – marketing, workflow, systems development, copywriting – I focus not just on the task, but the big picture.
That’s systems thinking. The idea that everything affects everything else. It’s important in technology, in business, in ministry, in ….. well almost everything, including our individual lives.
While it probably seems obvious that we would use systems thinking in business and technology or project management, we tend to forget to use it in our individual lives. And I believe that costs us in lives that are often fragmented, in decisions made that fix an immediate issue, but open the door to more problems long term, in short term fixes that hinder long term growth into who and what we want to be.
As individuals, we have lots of aspects. There are lots of pieces to our life.
- Work and all its aspects
- Our life as partners or spouse
- Our creative life
- Our spiritual life
- Our emotional life
- Our need for quiet, or companionship.
And lots of other parts as well. Typically, some of those pieces of life are going well and some are not going well. And the tendency is to dive in and “fix” the ones that are not going so well.
Too often that fix is so focused, that we don’t really think about how fixing “A” might make “B” either better or worse. So we fix “A”, only to find that somehow, in fixing “A”, we’ve messed up “B”, or “C” or the delicate balance between the two. And so now we have to fix “B” and on and on it goes, a constant patchwork of fixes, with the big picture ending up overall, in the same place.
That’s a lot of work to stay in the same place.
As a consultant, and as a personal coach, I’ve learned that one of the most important things we can do for ourselves is to see our lives as a whole, to treat our lives as a system in the same way as we treat parts of a business as a whole or parts of a technology system as a whole. Look at all the parts and see how they work and how they interact. Understand those connections and influences, and then, only then, start to make the changes.
It’s not as easy as we think, looking at our lives as a system. We want to dive in for the quick fix
But it is worth the effort. I have seen in my own practice that when people come to me to solve one part of their life or work, we can generally get them to a better place in that one part. Clients are happy enough with the results, But they often come back later with another issue in another part of their lives. The clients that take a holistic view, a systems view, take a little longer to work through things have a different result. They too are happy with the results, but they don’t come back. They don’t need to.
Systems thinking in our lives begins with honesty and self examination. A look at what the different parts of our lives are, and how they interact, and what is working and what is not, and why. You don’t do it in an hour or an afternoon. It takes time because our lives are far more complex than we think they are.
As we enter a new year, we often think in terms of resolutions. We pick a thing or two to work on. And most of us fail.
Let me make a different suggestion. Don’t make a resolution. Instead, spend some time over the next few weeks really looking at life, at all the interconnections, at the internal conflicts and struggles, at the parts that work and the parts that don’t. When you are done, you’ll have a picture of your life that will give you a better idea of what to work on first, and what will make the most difference, and how to prevent a fix from breaking something else.
Sometimes we can do this for ourselves. Sometimes we need help in this. A friend. A counselor. A coach. A pastor. Get that help, because the big picture, once understood, is the best place to begin in building the life you want for yourself. And that’s what I want for you – the life you want.
Be well. Travel wisely,
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