Peter Senge: Systems Thinking for a Better World

Peter Senge’s keynote speech “Systems Thinking for a Better World” at the 30th Anniversary Seminar of the Systems Analysis Laboratory “Being Better in the World of Systems” at Aalto University, 20 November 2014.

The time of interdependence and ignorance

Systems theory thinker Peter Senge gave a wonderful talk during his visit to Finland. You should watch the whole video, but here are some quotes from the talk:

“We live in a world of extraordinary interdependence.”

“We plug [our mobile phone] into a wall. Very few of us think of this as an unethical action, charging our device. But of course that device uses the electricity. That electricity has to come from someplace. It does not actually come from the socket in the wall. It comes from a electronic grid, a grid that moves electricity all over this part of the world. In my country about seventy percent of electricity comes from burning coal. …None of this works if we don’t burn former living things.”

“If you would have asked any of those people “do you wanna destroy the orange groves and lemon drops, do you wanna destroy the possibility for children playing outside, do you wanna destroy the possibility for children to walk to school by themselves, do you wanna destroy the air?” of course they would all have said “no”. How many us want to destroy species? Really. You look up in the morning and think “ah, what a beautiful day to destabilize the climate a bit more”. Of course we don’t think that way! No one wants to produce the systemic outcomes that we consistently produce.”

“It does not really help much to have a systems awareness up here [in the head]. It all comes down to what we do, how we operate, how we think, how we think and act.”

“The archetypal system for you and I as human beings is the family. We, human beings, grew up in families. If we just simply ponder for a moment the suffering that you’ve seen firsthand produced in families. And that suffering can range from hurt feelings to mis-communications into many many forms, of course we know one very common is abuse. And ask yourself a question is it anybody’s goal to produce this suffering, is anybody trying to hurt feelings or hurt people – and yet we consistently produce those outcomes. That’s systems ignorance. In the Confucian tradition it is considered a sin to be ignorant.

So we live in a world of systems ignorance and that’s an abstract way to say we live in a world where we consistently produce suffering for each other, for other humans and for living creatures of all sorts, which nobody intends.

“Interdependence has grown, and our awareness of the interdependence has declined.”

“We have to rediscover our love for the natural world.” 

“We are systems thinkers, by our nature. We are born, we are predisposed, we are biologically predisposed to love. We are innate systems thinkers.

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