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Systems Thinking: a Practical Field Guide

  • UX Y'all 301 W Morgan St Durham, NC, 27701 USA (map)

Andreas Orphanides

NC State University Libraries

Regardless of your role -- management, development, customer service, etc. -- systems thinking is a critical skill for improving your own work and your organization. Systems analysis allows us to introspect on our work, to recognize incipient failures, to diagnose systemic problems, and to optimize workflows. But how do we get good at thinking in systems? The answer, as with many things, is practice. Luckily, the world around us gives us many opportunities to do so: systems are everywhere, and examining an unfamiliar system is a great way to develop your systems thinking muscles. In this workshop, drawing from real-world examples in our day-to-day lives (from burrito shops to public-restroom paper towel dispensers), we will demonstrate how to tease apart the threads of an unfamiliar system using limited evidence. We'll identify the opportunities to observe and derive insight from unfamiliar systems, and we'll form a broad framework for thinking about systems -- both new ones and those that are familiar to us. Part field guide, part collection of lateral-thinking exercises, this presentation will encourage audience members to look at systems in a new light, to observe the effects of systems design, and to work backward and forward to understand the underlying systems more completely. These skills are directly transferrable to our day-to-day work; by better understanding systems in the wider world, we can gain new insights into our own systems. The audience will come away from this talk with a renewed recognition of and appreciation for systems, a framework for understanding systems and system design choices, and a thirst for puzzling through the systems they encounter both in their work and in the world at large.