Visionary Systems Thinkers

History | References

“Man cannot solve problems by using the same thought processes which we were using when we created the problem in the first place.” – Albert Einstein

A Brief Introduction to Visionary Systems Thinking
From the occult to science, humans have always tried to predict the future. Today, trusting predictions and prophecies has become part of daily life. In order to make predictions about future technologies and worlds, you must first be a visionary systems thinker and polymath like Stuart Scott, Director of Scientists’ Warning. Stuart H. Scott (born December 7th, 1948) is an American environmentalist and educator known for his creativity in communicating the urgency and severity of the impact of the current ‘growth’ economic system on climate, habitability of Earth, and society. Scott is the ultimate ‘systems thinker’, with training in a variety of scientific fields, work experience in finance, education and information systems, as well as extensive investigative immersion in Nature, cognitive psychology and more.

Unlike the bland, corporate way in which most professional future gazing takes place within government, think-tanks and corporations; true futurist scientists, writers, and experts must constantly be on the cusp of new possibilities and advances. They must be able to think outside the box, and also design the plane while simultaneously piloting it so to speak. Also a systems thinker must understand many complex things at once. Systems thinkers must know and deploy frameworks from numerous areas of expertise such as category theory, physics, semiotics, and the deep psychology of systems and states. The goal is to mimic what physicists call ‘the elegant universe’ in terms of the solutions they create.

Particularly systems intended to solve or mitigate the climate crisis must be biophysically compatible, possibly self-regenerative, and biophilic. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently announced the publication of a new research article titled, “Systems thinking as a pathway to global warming beliefs and attitudes through an ecological worldview”. It defines systems thinking as follows:

“Systems thinking refers to the tendency to view phenomena as interconnected and dynamic. It involves the understanding that the natural, social, and economic worlds are interrelated and constantly changing, and that people, including oneself, are part of this dynamic system. Although systems thinking is emphasized as vital to learning about and understanding climate science, research on the effects of systems thinking is relatively limited. Understanding how systems thinking influences public understanding of climate change has implications for climate change education and communication.”

The world is made up of systems, and is the result of any interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves an outcome. A tree is a system. A forest is a system. Every person is a system. Systems are often embedded in larger systems, which are embedded in yet larger systems. The earth’s climate is a system comprised of the subsystems of our atmosphere, our oceans, the land, and human society.

Systems Thinking, Systems Tools and Chaos Theory
Learn more about systems thinking and systems tools with the Free Management Help Library. Guidelines for analyzing and improving systems are also included in the books Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development and Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development with Nonprofits .

Three of the biggest breakthroughs in how we understand and successfully guide changes in ourselves, others and organizations are systems theory, systems thinking and systems tools.

Learn more about Systems Theory >>

Why and How Should Leaders Practice Systems Thinking?
In the LOs Model, created and researched by implementing systems thinking approach, nine organizational systems affect learning. Communication is the most important system that has the greatest impact on learning. The other three systems which have a very serious effect on learning are leadership and management, vision and strategy and performance management.

What Does It Mean To Be a Visionary Systems Thinker?
According to Murray Bookchin being a visionary entails using the ‘imagination to power.’ A visionary must ‘be practical, but do the impossible’, because if we don’t do the impossible now, we’re going to wind up with the unthinkable—and that will be the destruction of the planet itself. So to do the impossible is the most rational and practical thing we can do. And that impossible is both in our own conviction and in our shared conviction with our brothers and sisters, to begin to try to create, or work toward a very distinct notion of what constitutes a finally truly liberated as well as ecological society.’ A utopian notion, not just a futuristic notion. Ultimately, this is also about creating a ‘utopia for realists‘ (video).

“Leaders operate in the realm of bewildering uncertainty and staggering complexity. Today’s problems are rarely simple and clear-cut. If they were, they would likely already have been solved by someone else. If not well considered — and sometimes even when they are — today’s solutions become tomorrow’s problems. Success in the contemporary operating environment requires different ways of thinking about problems and organizations.” –

Utopia, It’s Not a Bad Thing
Even though society heavily marginalizes utopian thinkers as progressive dreamers at best, often in favor dystopian worlds of electronic sheep, being a utopian future thinker is not necessarily a bad thing. Utopian thinkers offer society something essential. These visionaries solve the unsolvable and approach even the most unthinkable physics problems with a fresh perspective.

There is no Planet B, but Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and others have said humans need to become a multiplanet species. Michio Kaku, future thinker and renowned physicist is one of them. Author, inventor, and futurist Ray Kurzweil famously and accurately predicted that a computer would beat a man at chess by 1998, that technologies that help spread information would accelerate the collapse of the  Soviet Union, and that a worldwide communications network would emerge in the mid 1990s (i.e. the internet). He also says, climate change is no problem and that “we have plenty of time” to replace fossil fuels with renewables. These visionaries are constantly thinking outside the box and into the space age.

Outlandish conceptual models such as The Venus Project (TVP) are said to lack reality and practicality and have drawn ridicule and disdain. People once mocked Einstein, Galileo, and other visionaries too.  But now more than ever these visionary and futuristic possibilities should be examined more closely for any clues they may hold to a future beyond the sixth mass extinction. Paradigms like these may be seriously flawed. But they get us thinking in new directions. Even Tesla Motors CEO, Elon Musk (video), has studied TVP. In the following episode of Answers with Joe, this modelling for futuristic systems thinking pragmatically is discussed.

For those who criticize the utopian aspects of these projects and say it’s not possible, please read the statements of eminent scientists who are now researching these concepts to use in their own modelling. For  example, The Venus Project states on its website that it is not utopian. Nikolina Olsen-Rule, writing for the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, supports this idea, stating:

“For most people, the promise of the project sounds like an unattainable utopia, but if you examine it more closely, there are surprisingly many scientifically founded arguments that open up an entire new world of possibilities.”

Morten Grønborg, also of Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, points out the Venus Project is:

“… this visionary idea of a future society has many characteristics in common with the utopia. … the word utopia carries a double meaning, since in Greek it can mean both the good place (eutopia) and the nonexisting place (outopia). A good place is precisely what Fresco has devoted his life to describing and fighting for.”

Against All Odds
Many with such futuristic vision have suffered greatly for being so far ahead of their time and, sometimes, for being flat out wrong. It is important that inventors get real while also believing in the impossible. But this is no small task. Those that see beyond current system and technology limitations, must truly see the future. This means they sometimes lose site of physical laws, and can end up out on a limb. The Green Swan and the New Energy Movements have gained some attention, but they are also being accused of junk science for the same reasons. Still these brave pioneers must be de facto guides through a landscape of confusion and deception especially in the current predatory capitalist regime.

“Never tell me the odds.” – Hans Solo

The Entire System: The Geobiosphere
Effective political measures will address the entire system, the geobiosphere. Some might call this a holistic or an ecological approach. However, the question remains as to whether we can actually ever truly know the entire system as a species. We still lack a grand unified field theory (GUT). Sometimes called the theory of everything, this is foundational to our understanding of all life. We are far from there yet. What we do know is that whatever we do will impact the geobiosphere, and the economy, as a subsystem, will also be impacted. Climate crisis intensifies this exponentially. Everything in the biosphere will now have to adapt itself to the global changes that are coming, as Greta Thunberg says, like it or not.

We can glean the purpose and goals of a system from its behavior, not from separate parts, rhetoric or stated goals. However, our longstanding romance with deconstructionist materialism informed by Cartesian dualism have made it nearly impossible for us in the Occident to see systems as a whole. In essence we can take things apart, but we cannot put them together. Because of this we are a long way from understanding this or any biological system fully as yet. However, we are still gathering clues from the ancients.

In short, to develop an effective global policy about climate change will mean learning a lot more about who we are and why we are here as a global species. It will also require visionary systems thinkers who can introduce us to a future we cannot even yet fathom.

Learn more:

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  • 10:30 am Nov 7, 2019 – S. Cairns – (Added Visionary Systems Thinkers page content, videos and graphics.)

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Note: This page is in a work in progress which will be constantly updated as with all wiki pages. It aims to introduce the topic of visionary systems thinkers as they are related to climate change.

One Reply to “Visionary Systems Thinkers”

  1. Systems thinking and future leaders go together to find needed solutions., (step 1).
    But the average “Joe” is mainly interested in 1 stop shopping. By raising “Joe’s” environmental capability our earth can begin to recover, (step 2). Time is the issue. One might think that we need to move faster, since our perspective is largely guided by social politics – on all levels. For this reason “thinking differently” is far superior to just moving faster. At this point we cycle forward to “systems thinking”. Ultimately what we think determines our outcome.
    Thinking out of the box is (Joe’s) next step. As I look around clearly it has begun, bringing more visionary and system thinking.
    I liked this article!
    It made me think.

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