James P Houghton

James Houghton - Why write a blog about systems?

Why write a blog about systems?

01 Mar 2012

With a little luck (and self-discipline) this blog is going to be about learning to understand the world’s complex systems. By necessity it will be my learning, but if that helps anyone else, so much the better. I’ve called the blog ‘Seeing Systems’ because systems thinking: the ability to understand how decisions propagate through a system, is becoming a form of literacy for the connected world. It is both vital for negotiating that world, and like literacy, fundamentally changes the way we see it.

In some ways, action and consequence are things we pick up at a very young age; but systems thinking goes beyond simple cause-and-effect. In systems with feedback, effects become their own causes, and the feedback structure has more consequence than actions themselves. When we begin to see that structure, a whole new world opens up before us.

I plan to use the ‘Web Log’ format in a similar way to that of someone making a journey: recording a log of places visited, insights gleaned, and if necessary, how to make my way back home. As I explore the physical and human systems of the world, I hope that by committing my exploration to word and diagram I can better understand where I am and what I see.

Any route will have a finite set of perspectives, and so my recording will be a limited reflection of the actual systems I explore. Thats ok! The recording is not intended to exactly replicate the object of its description any more than a sketch or map of a landscape is a replica of what it represents. The sketch, map, and my description of the systems I encounter is a model of that system.

I will probably not visit any unmapped territory, and this isn’t likely to be Merriwether Lewis’ notes so much as those of someone traveling his well-signposted route for the first time. I’ll try to make good use of guides, and the experience of those coming before me.

Honestly, I set off rather naively. I don’t particularly know where the exploration will lead, and have no real destination. I expect to go down a few dead ends and have to backtrack, make some mistakes, stumble over my footing and occasionally look like an idiot. If I’m lucky, nobody I know will be watching until I have my feet again, but otherwise I suppose I’ll be showing my fallibility. And that won’t be the end of the world. The goal is to learn, and that may require me to feel uncomfortable from time to time.

So, off we go!

© 2016 James P. Houghton