Basics about transforming social systems

Steven Brant’s article “Waiting for Superman” is ostensibly — and provocatively — about the transformation of education. It promotes “design thinking” (aka “systems thinking”), both for redesigning the educational system and as a subject to be taught in schools.

Here are three key passages that give the essence of the article:

(1) Analytic thinking is a machine age concept that treats all problems like a car with a dead battery. Fix the battery and the car will run. But if – based on changes in the larger environment in which you are traveling – you really need to be in a boat or an airplane, you are out of luck. Analytic thinking doesn’t give you the thinking tools to ask whether you should be in a car or not…

(2) We must learn that fixing the visibly broken parts of systems will not get us the change we need… not if the larger world in which that system exists has changed since when the system was first developed….

(3) Every system must have both an aim and a method for getting there. And the aim of “an educated population” is incomplete, because it doesn’t answer the question “In order to do what?” I suggest that creating a sustainable future (or “a world that works for everyone”) is not only a perfect fit for the leaders we Americans say we are but it’s also an exciting, challenging and hopeful aim that will inspire America’s children to want to be in school.

I propose that we apply this way of thinking to virtually every social system we live in — including our politics and economics. What is (or should be, now) the aim of our politics, our economics, our government, our media, our journalism…? Every citizen, student, and professional in these fields should be engaged in those questions. Then they/we should all engage in the urgent dialogue about whether our current designs for these systems actually serve the purposes we need them to serve. And finally, if not, we need deeper and very productive dialogue about how we — WE — will go about redesigning them to do what we need them to do.

Of course this proposal has a chicken-and-egg problem built into it. Who is this “WE” who is going to redesign these systems and put those designs into effect?

That is the question that my work on co-intelligence, wise democracy, and conscious evolution attempts to address. It is part of the reason why I see very high “leverage” in initiatives designed to identify a demonstrably inclusive, legitimate and wise “voice of the whole”, e.g., the Whole System Summit Initiative . We need a more rigorous, dependable, wise and competent version of “we” than we’ve ever had before…

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