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Mary Jo Asmus

Hi Steve,

Do you find that systemic thinking doesn't come naturally to everyone? In Myers-Briggs language, I would call it "intuition" - which is more natural to some than others.

Sometimes, those with a strong "sensing" preference - the dichotomy to intuition - have to work hard to develop systemic thinking. Especially if they have been in technical positions for much of their life, favoring the sensing side. The good news is that it is possible to develop your systemic thinking (intuitive preference)!

Perry Maughmer

This is first thing I share with students in the MBA classes I teach. We have a discussion around 2 concepts:
1. Current management theory is rooted in Newtonian thought which is reductionist in nature and believes that to understand everything, you need to break it apart into its component parts. We are beginning to see that this is incorrect in complex adaptive systems because it is the unique relationship of the "pieces" that enable the system and if you remove a component, the system will change in ways you can not predict.
2. Bloom's Taxonomy and our focus on "higher order thinking skills" of Evaluation, Synthesis, and Analaysis (versus the lower order skills like Application, Understanding, and Knowledge). We begin to evaluate the process by which we think and engage in developing the ability of pattern recognition which is critical in developing strategies.

Great post!

Steve Roesler

Mary Jo,

I understand your reference point and why it would intuitively:-) seem that way. There was a length of time in my practice where I operated under that general belief.

So, I started paying more attention to clients whose preferences had been validated by them. I have observed that the actual distinction is with the process that takes one to synthesis as well as knowledge of synthesis and its importance. The Sensing types usually prefer to examine each item on the checklist and may need to be asked "How does that all fit together?" The Intuitives, predictably, may start putting the puzzle together before all of the pieces are on the table. However, they may also miss the real meaning of each piece of data and end up with a somewhat skewed synthesis.

I read both your comment and Perry's before beginning to write. Perry's approach is well-taken: Teach people the models and patterns so they can fit them into their thought processes, regardless of preference. The MBTI and other self-awareness tools are useful in helping "students" of all ages understand where to be more intentional about their analyzing and synthesizing.

Getting back to the anecdotal info: I've watched ISTJ executives "put it all together" just as quickly, or quicker, than some of their intuitive opposites.

That said, it's useful to know one's preference as a way to quickly diagnose how to be helpful with coaching and development.

Steve Roesler


I'm encouraged to hear your approach with the MBA folks.

We all gravitate toward "the way we've thought about things..."; it's only human. By being deliberate about the models and creating an awareness of their respective value, you've expanded the horizons of those in the program. That can only bode well for their current and future employers as well as their individual careers.

Wally Bock

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.


Wally Bock

Kristen Simsek

My experiences working in small organizations really drive my support of the posting "Coach This: Systemic Thinking." Too regularly I see that tasks are completed and products delivered with a lack of an established process. Actions are driven and decisions are made based on the opinions of multiple individuals. There is no concrete leader, there is no thinking process that one must go through to solve a problem. Although, it does make for a friendly work environment when managers will take time to listen to individuals, it often allows for personalities and biases to get in the way of creating an efficient structure. I can assure you that I will be posting your recommended questions above desk, to at least encourage myself to analyze and synthesize.

Steve Roesler


Glad to know that this struck a note with you and your organization. And, I hope that using it will begin to have an impact.

Thanks for taking time to weigh in and let me know how you make it with it. . .

Jennifer Mizzi

This post really hit home for me. I’m newly entering an MBA program, and coming from a background in mathematics I have found myself doing a lot more analyzing then synthesizing. I think the set of questions you gave are really helpful because they start with the analysis (question 1) and continues to connect the analytical thinking to the bigger picture. Thanks for the helpful blog!

Steve Roesler


From time to time I teach in a grad program and, in part, that's what prompted this article as well as some others written in the past few years.

Pleased to know this hit home and much success with your MBA!


Systemic thinking. I like!

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