We perceive the physical world we live in as our reality, but that sense of reality exists only in our individual minds, derived from accumulated sensory signals through sight, sound, smell, taste and touch with a mental framework that has been built through experience to make sense of what we perceive. We rarely give that mental framework a second’s thought, but it is the dominant factor of how we perceive reality and make sense of what the very limited and gap-ridden sensory signals are indicating. Just search the Internet for reality and the mind if that concept is new to you.

If we are to achieve change in our reality, we should consciously acknowledge what mental model we are using. Often change doesn’t achieve the improvement intended, so for those stuck with a mental model, the solution is usually to “try harder”.

Analytical Thinking

Analytical thinking or analysis has been in our society since the times of the ancient Greeks, at least. It means:

the abstract separation of a whole into its constituent parts in order to study the parts and their relations

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Conceptually, it assumes that if we know how all the parts work, we will know the whole. From a systems view, the thinking direction of analysis takes us inward towards the detail with little consideration of the external environment. It has served us well in the progress from hunter gatherers through to the industrial and technological levels of our current society. We value the knowledge a car mechanic has about all parts of our car, or our doctors knowledge of our body, when we take either of them in for repair. Analytical thinking allows them to find which part is not functioning correctly and design a solution that attempts to fix the issue.

Analytical thinking has also influenced the way we have constructed society. We break down complexity into simpler parts and implement those parts to form the whole. In school, the day is broken up into lessons. The lessons are broken up into subjects, and so on through subject area topics. We construct organisations with hierarchical management breakdowns from the CEO to individuals. Management documentation usually addresses organisational functions. The belief is that with the right functions performing correctly, the organisation will succeed. Often it does, but not always, even when we try harder. So is there an alternative mental model that might help where analytical thinking is failing?

Systems Thinking

Modern Systems thinking originated in the 1920s within several disciplines, notably biology and engineering. This came from a recognition that there were many aspects which scientific analysis could not explore. The expectation of the systems thinkers of the 40s and 50s was that the scientific method would one day have two components: analytical thinking and systems thinking. But this isn’t new; Aristotle noted that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Systems thinking is explained in other pages. But a warning! Once you learn that it is more useful to think of interconnections between parts in complex systems, rather than the functions of the parts, your life will be FOREVER changed. You will suffer a constant frustration with your analytical thinking colleagues and bosses!

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