CSL4D : aim

Concept & Systems Learning for Design             CSL4D is an informal, private initiative for exploring the combined use of concept mapping and systems thinking for learning in business, development, and education. Originally, the D in CSL4D stood for Development, but in 2014 it evolved that the broader scope of ‘design’ was much more appropriate (see my 6 posts on design).

“Qualsiasi dato diventa importante se è connesso a un altro.” Umberto Eco*
(Any fact becomes important when it’s connected to another.)
But only if it simultaneously reveals its relevance.” (Sjon van ’t Hof)

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Systemic business model development?

Business model canvas and the systems approach

In this post I show how the well-known ‘Business model canvas’ can be represented very effectively using a concept map. I also argue that in many cases the design of a business model should be preceded by the design of a systemic intervention using the systems approach. The entire process from wicked problem to business plan then becomes: WP→SI→BM→BP, where WP = wicked problem, SI = systemic interventionBM = business model, and BP = business plan.

Alexander Osterwalder     … writes in his PhD thesis (2004) that the complex term “business model” rose to prominence in the dotcom years before the well-known bubble with the same name burst in 2000. At the start of his thesis work he was mainly interested in the development of effective software-based business model tools to improve strategic management in a rapidly moving, complex and uncertain business environment. Because the bubble had burst shortly after, he quickly weakened the research question to: “How can business models be described and represented in order to build the foundation for subsequent concepts and tools.” So, essentially, his PhD thesis became an exercise in knowledge modelling. One of the things he found during his research was a strong interest of the business community in business models to enhance communication and transparency. Several years later, Osterwalder came up with his now famous business model canvas. A very short introduction can be seen in this 3-minute video.

business model canvass

Business model generation        … is the title of a book, written by Osterwalder, which I heard of in early 2013. I picked up a copy last week and, flipping through, it occurred to me that the business model canvas could be made a lot more readily understandable by turning it into a concept map (concept mapping is a knowledge modelling tool). The key concepts of the canvas are depicted in yellow, and the meanings of these concepts are illustrated in grey. I rather liked the result, so I figured I should share it with you. The book (i.e. ‘Business model generation’) provides lots of ideas and additional concepts. I particularly liked the grey ‘Outlook’ section in the back where non-profit (social) business models are discussed, e.g. the Grameenphone model. There is also a section on how to write a business plan based on a business model (pp. 268-269) and one on the implementation of the business model (planimplementation) in an existing organization (pp. 270-271) with ‘levers’ for effecting change in the areas of strategy, structure, processes, rewards and people (these areas in fact correspond to Galbraith’s Star Model of organizational design).

Sequoia Capital      … (an American venture capital firm) provides an alternative, 10-step model for writing a business plan, which you may like as well. Steps 2 and 3 focus explicitly on the problem (the pain of the customer) and the solution (your company’s value proposition to make the customer’s life better). In Osterwalder’s model these two key aspects are combined in the ‘value proposition’ concept. At another level the distinction is made between a cost-driven and a more value-driven business (see concept map). Value-driven businesses are generally the more interesting ones, although the distinction between cost-driven and value-driven businesses is not always easy to make.

The systems approach       What troubles me in the models of Osterwalder and Sequoia is that they seem to leave out the step preceding  model design. This is particularly the case for value-driven enterprise development to address complex, wicked problems. In such cases, it seems to me that the systems approach would appear to be a good choice to find ‘whole system’-based ideas for designing systemic interventions for innovative business models, which in turn could be described in the form of a business plan.

     WP→SI→BM→BP, where
WP = wicked problem, SI = systemic intervention,
BM = business model, and BP = business plan

The systems approach typically deals with aspects of design, co-creation, risk reduction, sustainability – a huge challenge for business – and effectiveness – a huge challenge for government – (look in the concept map in the grey box illustrating the various types of customer needs). I am not saying that it is always wise to consider everything as a wicked problem, but wicked problems are more widespread than we like to think and people often want to get rid of them or find some form of alleviation from them, so it may well be worth keeping the systems approach in the back of one´s mind. If not for thinking of new businesses, then perhaps for imagining more innovative business models.

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Rules of thumb and leverage points

How to link them to the workings of the systems approach?

Inter-relationships          “So it’s all about inter-relationships?” somebody asked me, after I had tried to explain the systems approach. “Well, yes,” I replied, “but it’s also about Kauffman’s rules of thumb and Meadows’ leverage points. And about key stakeholder perspectives, the unavoidability of deception, debating system boundaries, and the collaborative design of a systemic intervention. And if we insist it is mostly about inter-relationships, it is very important to clarify what the concept stands for.” So that’s what I am going to do. Everything else follows from there.

Whole system rationality       In the simplest sense, inter-relationships are the connections between components or agents within a situation. Now, the systems approach is about figuring out which inter-relationships matter and how they matter. So, it’s about meaningful inter-relationships. Meaningful here means that an inter-relationship is relevant to the wicked problem at hand and the systemic intervention that needs to be designed and implemented to address it. This is also known as whole system rationality. A wicked problem is a complex human problem situation. For more information on the nature of wicked problems, click on the link.

Systemic inquirysystems approach essence 1         The problem with wicked problems is that they cannot be studied by looking at inter-relationships as subsystems, because we need to keep the context ‘as a whole’ in mind. Not only do subsystems interact with other subsystems, but also with the whole. Now, this ‘whole’ is what every person makes of it, i.e. very much a matter of perception. And one person’s idea of ‘the whole’ can be quite different from that of another person*. So, the best way to go about that problem is to somehow work with the perceptions of key stakeholders. We do that in three ways: (1) the key stakes of key stakeholders are encapsulated in so-called framings, which tell us in a very general way what ‘the whole’ is about; (2) these framings help the stakeholders to outline the actual situation (‘is’) and an ideal situation (‘ought’) that could be the case in say 5-10 years time; (3) the stakeholders then engage in a debate using a set of 12 categorized views (heuristic) and powered by the dialectical tension produced by opposing the actual (‘is’) and ideal situation (‘ought’).

* Another reason why it is difficult to study inter-relationships is that they are not all of the same order. In fact, Dana Meadows suggested a 12-level hierarchy (see below), which is one more good reason (only humans can handle that) to work with multi-stakeholder perspectives in a kind of multi-perspective rationality in addition to the whole-system rationality mentioned earlier.

Possible clues         The dialectic produces a large number of possible clues for understanding the problem and its solution. Only at Continue reading

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The problem may be people

Yet, we mustn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

Relating Systems Thinking and Design   … is the title of a symposium held in Banff, Canada on September 1, 2015. The keynote was delivered by Don Norman, whose work mostly involves user-centred design (e.g. at Apple in the 1990s) or its advocacy. The keynote was lightly based on a paper written with Pieter Jan Stappers, who teaches Industrial Design at Delft University of Technology. I have written a bit on design and systems thinking, hence my interest. Serendipity being what it is, the keynote gave me totally unexpected insights, which was excellent, because I was sorely in need of them. A likely case of a Jungian synchronicity/sensemaking mash-up?

don norman's keynote

Complexity and sense-making  … is what the keynote (Youtube) was about, whereas the paper emphasizes that the main challenges of complex sociotechnical systems such as healthcare, transportation, governmental policy, and environmental protection “stem not from trying to understand or address the issues, but rather arise during implementation, when political, economic, cultural, organizational, and structural problems overwhelm all else.” In his speech Norman points out that people are constrained in sense-making of complex situations and their “solutions” by a variety of psychological factors, including a preference for understanding problems by way of linear simplicity and a strong dislike for the loopiness of complexity. Clearly, people’s preferences are completely at odds with complexity’s demands.

Accommodating linearity       Norman concludes that for the sake of implementation we need to accommodate this preference for linearity by means of a three-pronged strategy: (1) cut up inquiries or solutions in more or less self-contained modules; (2) do not go for the best possible solution (that risks not being implemented at all), Continue reading

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What is it with the systems approach?

… and explaining what it is about and how it works?

Yes, what indeed?       This post presents one more explanation of the systems approach. I am convinced that everybody does it – I mean the systems approach (in a probably unconscious way) I hasten to add –, but hardly anybody seems to be aware of this. Perhaps it is so ingrained in our cognitive apparatus that we can’t see it. Since we can’t see it, we can’t really understand it very well or very easily. But without understanding, we can’t bring it to a level in our mind that we can consciously start applying it with rigour to particular situations we are confronted with. In my experience, trying to understand and explain the systems approach is a rather mind-bending exercise. Whatever may or may not be the case, I will give the explanation of the systems approach one more go and, by so doing, add an additional version to an already large number of previous efforts. I promise that one day I will compile all the various explanations I have presented so far into a single presentation that will elucidate once and for all the systems approach as the pathway to understanding complex issues generally, and “the answer to life, the universe, and everything” possibly (the last 10 words formed a joke, don’t let it put you off!).

Always these concept maps          I know the ‘spaghetti’ (strings) puts off the majority of readers (don’t worry if you are one of them), but I insist on first composing a concept map. I insist first and foremost because it helps me understand stuff better. That’s why Joe Novak – the inventor of concept maps – claims it is the key to meaningful learning (for an example and explanation, see my post on seasons). A concept map is simply a collection of inter-related propositions (or strings of words, more particularly sets of two concepts coupled by a verb). The concept with the most verbs is the most important one, so in our case that’s “systems as [a] whole”, bang in the middle of the concept map. Now ‘systems as a whole’ is nested with ‘multiple perspectives’ in a single node that I called ‘systems approach’, so there you have the essence. You have learned a lot, so you could consider stopping here. No, no, no, wait, I forgot! Did you know that systems, at least when humans are involved, don’t exist as such? They are just loose and tight-coupled sets of inter-relationships with boundaries as perceived and/or agreed upon from the combined perspectives of part or all of those same humans. How about that for a definition? What’s more, it’s perfectly in line with Churchman’s notion of the environmental fallacy. Not to forget Wicked Solutions, which uses inter-relationships, perspectives and boundaries to explain in a very practical way how you can apply the systems approach yourself. Now you can stop.

the systems approach with principles

The systems approach         … , therefore, deals with ‘systems as a whole’ that have ‘multiple perspectives’. These ‘multiple perspectives’ help perceive ‘systems as a whole’. According to Macmillan ‘to perceive’ means ‘to understand or think about something in a particular way’. In other words, the systems approach was designed (by C. West Churchman) to make sense of systems as a whole using multiple perspectives to arrive at a less particular (i.e. a more inter-subjective) way of understanding. Now looking at a system as a whole is an exercise in non-linearity that is Continue reading

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Dutch education reform controversies

And the issue of how to develop critical global citizenship

This post discusses the possible contribution of the systems approach, whether in the form of critical heuristics or otherwise, to the development of critical global citizenship as a key skill to be taught and used in secondary education, in The Netherlands or elsewhere. The perspective is that of a Dutch geography teacher (Mr. Rob Adriaens) to which I have added a few musings of my own. The background is formed by a controversial proposal for Dutch education reform that was published in January 2016. I patched together (no, carefully designed) another of my concept maps to summarize what the Dutch education reform proposal is about and used it to highlight some of the key ideas of Mr. Adriaens. It is all based on an article that was published in last Saturday’s edition of Trouw – possibly the best Dutch newspaper in the world.

Dutch education reform         In January 2016 the latest reform proposal was published by the Platform Education 2032 (report) after 2 years of protracted, wide-ranging and in-depth discussions with all possible stakeholders. It proposes: (1) a core curriculum of English, Dutch, math, digital/computer literacy  accompanied by the mandatory development of (2) general ‘interdisciplinary’ skills such as learning skills, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and cooperation. All (3) other subjects (geography, chemistry, physics, French, German, history etc.) will be so-called ‘elective’ components to be designed according to the interests and requirements of the school and the individual student. The Platform further says that this knowledge should be divided into (4) three clusters or domains: social studies, science, and language & culture. Students will acquire in-depth knowledge of selected topics within each domain.

A geography teacher’s critique     Mr. Adriaens is one of the three founders of Geo Future School, an initiative of the Royal Netherlands Geographical Society (KNAG).critical global citizenship learning At ‘Geofuture Schools’ students work on assignments,  which are designed by external partners in both the private sector and civil society and encourage students to combine their knowledge in fields such as geography, business economics, science and history to arrive at good solutions. In Mr. Adriaens sees two major problems: (1) the emphasis on politically desirable citizenship for the Dutch situation at the level of the core curriculum instead of critical global citizenship as needed in an increasingly complex, globalized world; (2) the inadequacy of the proposed clustering framework for an area such as geography, which straddles two or three clusters. Furthermore, there is the general worry that future students will lack Continue reading

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What is job networking?

And how does personal marketing work?

Job networking model     The world is full of job coaches, employment councillors and career advisors, whose noble job is to guide job seekers through their job seeking process. I scoured the Internet for a model on which this process may be based, but couldn’t find one. By not exposing the model, job seekers may lack a coherent picture of the knowledge the coaches and advisors seek to impart, which may lead to issues of acceptance or misunderstandings. In this post I will present a first (imperfect) version of an explicit model that integrates job networking and personal marketing. As usual I start with a concept map, under the slogan “think before you write”. In grey capitals I indicated themes for different areas on the concept map, including: job market, competition, personal branding and job satisfaction.

Job seeker’s task      What the job seeker must do – apart from responding to job vacancies – is three things: (1) specify the jobs he or she wants; (2) clarify his or her competencies that enable him or her to carry out that job to satisfaction; and (3) work through his network to identify and learn about jobs that are not published. It is claimed by some that 70 or 80% of the job openings are not published, so it will depend on the extent of one’s network to what extend one can learn about them. A job seeker may or may not seek to upgrade his KSA competencies to achieve an ulterior career goal. Usually upgrading activites concern acquiring knowledge or experience.

job networking

Personal marketing          If the normal job seeking activities do not produce the desired result, it is time to think about personal marketing or personal branding. It starts with getting a better idea of the job opportunities available and the extent Continue reading

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What perspective for Northern Mali?

And what role for Dutch military in UN Peacekeeping?

Tuareg rebellions    There have been 4 Tuareg rebellions since the independence of Mali: 1962–64, 1990–95, 2007–09, and 2012-2014. During the second rebellion – while I was there – the Tuaregs started reclaiming the right to nationhood in a large area in northern Mali known as Azawad. In 2012, the long-simmering hostility between the Mali government and the Tuareg erupted once again. This last rebellion was very successful and led to the conquest of the northern half of the country by various Tuareg movements, some with links to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). French forces intervened in 2013 and 2014 to retake much of the country. The French continue their anti-terrorism work to prevent the situation from escalating again. The rebels retreated to the deserts and mountains of northern Mali to continue their war. In 2013, the United Nations established Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

Dutch role     Since 2014, the Dutch military participate in MINUSMA with 450 troops and 4 Apache helicopters, mainly to collect intelligence for the on-going MINUSMA peacekeeping operation. As is normal during UN peacekeeping activities, MINUSMA soldiers, including Dutch military personnel are not to engage the enemy, except for self-defence. It all seems rather pointless, especially when well-trained and well-equipped soldiers are not allowed to intervene, even in situations of flagrant violations of peace treaty terms or severe criminal offenses. People fear that the effectiveness of MINUSMA, including the Dutch deployment, will be very small and will remain minimal for as long as can be foreseen. The problem has been debated in Amsterdam on the first of June, 2016, see here (Dutch announcement) and here (English summary). Unfortunately I could not participate. The point of this post is to add a few points to the debate (ex-post) and put them into context. As usual I start with a concept map, under the slogan “think before you write”. In grey capitals I indicated themes for different areas on the concept map. I have already dealt with the (upper middle) PEACEKEEPING part.

northern mali

Partial state fragility       There have been discussions whether Mali is a fragile state or not. That question is important because peacekeeping missions in fragile states are very likely to fail. My first point is that Mali suffers of partial state fragility (in the North), which in turn threatens the viability of Mali as a whole. Continue reading

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