Published monthly by Sharon Eakes, Hope Unlimited, LLC
FOCUS: Systems Thinking
Disciplines: Personal Mastery, Systems Thinking, Shared Vision

"When we don't see systems we are at their mercy." Barry Oshry


I recently broke the ring finger on my right hand. I was amazed how having this finger splinted threw my whole system off. The simplest activity, like tying shoes, was hard. Now, three weeks later, I can type, wash my hair, carry things. My system has reorganized.

So what exactly is a system? A system is a set of at least two interacting elements that function as a complex whole. Examples of systems are families, companies, politics, the solar system, nations and computers.

I am passionate about the importance of seeing and understanding systems, because I think that is the only way we will solve the world's problems. Systems thinking is a philosophy and a tool set that can both help us understand how interdependent we are and find the leverage points for long-term change. Systems thinking focuses on the big picture and the long-term as well as the details in the present. The following systems principles have been described by serious students of systems. Read them slowly; each is a gem.

--> We influence and are influenced by all the systems we're in.
--> Today's problems often come from yesterday's "solutions."
--> Most systems include both measurable and non-measurable factors.
--> Things tend to get worse before they get better.
--> There is often a delay between an action and its effect (sometimes years).
--> Small changes can produce big results - but the areas of highest leverage may not be obvious.


I was thrilled recently to read that the work of the Rocky Mountain Institute ( has finally hit a tipping point. Since the 1970's RMI has been working with a "whole-system approach" to develop efficient, sustainable, market-based energy solutions. Read their remarkable book "Winning the Oil Endgame" available free at More than ten years ago RMI began promoting the compact fluorescent light bulb and hybrid cars. People laughed. Now RMI's consultation is sought by many different sectors. Note this upcoming RMI lecture: "Strange Bedfellows: RMI, the Pentagon, Wal-Mart and Texas Instruments."


Here's a thought exercise to help you experience system dynamics.

1. Identify a problem or issue currently facing you and your immediate work group (or family). In the center of a piece of paper, draw a circle and write the name of your group and one or two words to describe the issue you've chosen.
2. Who else outside your group is affected by this issue? Draw circles in a ring around your central issue and write your answers in these circles. Connect each outer circle with the center circle.
3. Who is touched by each of the people or groups in Step 2? Who is indirectly connected? Don't forget families, friends, etc. Draw more circles and connect them.
4. Are there other connections? You can include non-human elements like Revenues or Quality or Other Groups' Work.
5. Think of questions you might ask about the relationships you've drawn, starting with these:
--> What happens to the center circle when things are going well in the other circles? When they're not going well?
--> Can you see any ways something that happens in the center circle causes a change in a connected circle that then comes back and affects the center circle?


My all-time favorite resource for systems thinking is the annual Systems Thinking in Action Conference organized each year by Pegasus Communications ( This is simply the best conference I have ever attended. It brings together people who work in complex systems from all over the world, including people in business, government, health care, education, and non-profit organizations. Last year a woman attending for the first time declared, "I have found my people!" That is a common sentiment. I have attended ten Systems Thinking in Action conferences, and I would not miss it. I always leave inspired and energized. My mind has been stretched. I bring home practical new tools that help me in my work. Each year I have met people with whom I stay in touch. This year the conference is in Boston from November 13-15. With the theme, Leading Beoynd the Horizon: Bringing Tomorrow into Today's Choices, it promises to be spectacular. I can't recommend strongly enough that you sign up and go. Check it out at

Pegasus encourages "teams" to attend by offering a discount. They have agreed that Fresh Views readers could constitute a virtual "team", eligible for a discount, without the need to actually operate as a team. Send me an e-mail if you're interested.


Please join me for a 45-minute telegathering to further explore the topic of systems thinking. Call Thursday, July 6th at noon Eastern (11:00 a.m. Central, 10:00 a.m. MT, 9:00 a.m. Pacific) 1-985-425-2620 X925 No need to register....just call at that time! Reach me: 1-888-907-HOPE (4673)or e-mail I am a personal and executive coach and would be happy to offer you a complimentary coaching session by phone.

Each month FRESH VIEWS focuses on a single topic, relates it to one of the five disciplines of a learning community, and offers a coaching tip and a follow-up telegathering. Please forward it to friends and colleagues. My purpose in writing FRESH VIEWS is to nurture, prod and encourage readers to think and talk about these topics with their families, friends and colleagues. Mine is only one view. Multiple conversations may deliver us to insights only hinted at here. Such a process sustains the vitality of learning relationships, learning families, learning organizations and learning communities.

Fresh Views E-zine Index

720 Maple Lane, Sewickley, PA 15143
TOLL-FREE: 1(888) 769-3494
FAX: (412) 741-2159