Home > Wake Up, Yes/No, Zoom Out > The Power of a Systems Perspective

The Power of a Systems Perspective

Graphic facilitation by Elise Crespin In Warren Berger’s book, A More Beautiful Question, he recalls an anecdote from education pioneer Deborah Meier that stopped me in my tracks when I read it:

“We had one of those world maps with the U.S. right in the middle—remember those? And one of the students looked at it and said, ‘How come the East Indies are in the west?’ And that question got me thinking about the impact of what you put in the center and what it does to everything else.”

I love this story because it so nicely illustrates the value of what my partners and I call “coaching from a systems perspective.” Like a good coach with a provocative question, this little girl created an opening for Meier to talk with her students about their place in a larger system and the perspective they were holding about that. Meier changed the curriculum as a result of this inquiry because “it had so many implications for how you see yourself.”

This is exactly the kind of opening we try to create with leaders who are grappling with the challenges of effecting sustainable change for themselves and their organizations. We find that it is often new insight about the vantage point from which they’re viewing a complex systems environment—and their ability to try on other vantage points—that allows them to break through to new ways of thinking and acting.

One tool we use to get a fix on what our coaching client has put in the center of her awareness, and what that “does to everything else,” is the Butterfly Framework of Complex Human Systems.  Like Meier’s world map, this framework allows us to step back and ask, “Where in this landscape of internal and external systemic forces is our client’s awareness focused? What would be possible if she shifted her awareness to another part of the system?”

Having just returned from the SoL Global Forum in Paris, where I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop on the Butterfly Framework, I can report that there is a vibrant international community of coaches and consultants who understand the evolutionary importance of greater systems awareness. Colleagues from no fewer than fifteen countries shared stories with me about how they are catalyzing transformation by helping their clients ask more beautiful questions and better see the systems they are and the systems they’re in.

What question, if you asked it right now, would move you to a new perspective?

  1. Frank Smith
    June 11, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, workshop experience, and wonderful graphic. Funny how the transition seems to move from having the right answers to exploring important questions. Wondering is so much more enjoyable than knowing.

    • June 12, 2014 at 8:39 am

      Thanks, Frank. I’m really enjoying this book, A More Beautiful Question. One of the author’s main observations is about the very rapid decline in questioning that occurs for children around age 5. Your word, “wondering” makes me think of a childlike curiosity–so counter-intuitive for busy adults with lots of responsibilities–but so essential to creativity. Also, the graphic from the workshop was created by Elise Crespin (http://ifvpcommunity.ning.com/profile/EliseCrespin). All of the graphic facilitators at the Global Forum were excellent.

  2. June 24, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Thanks, Vicky. The Butterfly Model helped me see myself a little differently today. And congratulations on presenting a workshop on the model at the SoL conference in Paris. Wow!

  3. June 25, 2014 at 6:40 am

    I’m glad you found the Butterfly Framework helpful, Judy. One thing I like about it is that it is so intuitive. When we share it with people, they tend to “get it” and start applying it to their real world concerns immediately. Also, Judy, I just learned about Zen archery, which reminded me of the sword elements in the art of Aikido. Have fun with your July 11 performance, by the way!

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