Innovation through systems thinking

This post was written to accompany a workshop Anna Carlson and I are delivering at Service Design days in Barcelona.

Our workshop was designed to equip attendees with a general appetite for systems thinking along with a single practical skill. We chose Causal Loop Diagrams as they’re an easy to grasp but widely useful skill that can be understood fairly quickly. Also they don’t rely on study or observation.

The most commonly used examples; the left loop is balancing, the right reinforcing

Put simply, a Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) is a visual representation of any given system. They can be huge headache-inducing maps or small elegantly drawn diagrams, but in all cases they seek to represent the following:

Each CLD should aim to represent a system of some kind. Often they’re used to represent a problem space with multiple moving parts. This video offers a dry but solid overview of the technique:

For the purpose of the workshop we following a simple set of steps:

A CLD I created to show how reinforcing loops and balancing loops can work together

Why bother?

The process of creating a causal loop diagram is useful for a few different reasons:

Further reading

This is a huge and interesting topic so I’d recommend reading some of the following:

UPDATE: Causal loop diagrams created in the workshop

Workshop was a real success — we had 42 people most of whom hadn’t practically applied systems thinking before. They really got into their chosen problem areas and found the process rewarding. There was some difficulty in groups deciding on when to stop, and two groups were worried that their diagrams were overly negative, but I think was because they had chosen particularly gnarly areas to explore.

Here are photos of most of the diagrams — I had no shoes on as we held the workshop in the basement of the Estrella brewery and it was super hot.

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Ross Breadmore

Mum asked for a baby, dad asked for a transformer - I was the compromise. Chief product officer at 4G Capital.