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Home > Systems Thoughts
What's Spirit Got to Do with It?
by Bob Powell, 2/07/03
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The systems thinking perspective sees that everything is connected, and that's a central message of spirituality.

"If one accepts the argument that the primary source of growing intractability of our problems is a tightening of the links between the various physical and social subsystems that make up our reality, one will agree that system dynamics and systems thinking hold great promise as approaches for augmenting our solution-generating capacity. The systems thinker's forte is recognizing interdependence."

Barry Richmond, Founder and Managing Director
High Performance Systems

So systems thinking is about seeing the interconnectedness of all ... and this is indeed a spiritual calling.

The paper, "The Crisis Syndrome: When Archetypes Gang Up," describes the causal relationships that keep individuals and organizations trapped in behaviors that favor either a symptomatic solution, providing only short-term relief, or an external solution, leaving them in dependency. The structures, or archetypes, combine to form a "Crisis Syndrome," an extraordinarily powerful combination that creates a super-addictive trap.

Perhaps the only way to extricate ourselves from this structure is to exercise discipline. In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck defines discipline as "a system of techniques of dealing constructively with the pain of problem-solving ... instead of avoiding that pain ... in such a way that all of life's problems can be solved." Further, Peck goes on to say that the source of the willingness, energy, strength, and courage to apply discipline is love, which comes from a spiritual source.

A "spirituality prescription" for extricating ourselves from personal addiction is problematic in business. It's not generally acceptable to use four-letter words like "love".

As an alternative, Stephen Covey's Principle-Centered Leadership describes the source of "discipline" as "Values, Purpose and Envisioned Future"; and the source of these is "Principles." It's less objectionable to substitute "Principles" and "strength of Values, Purpose & Envisioned Future" as the source of "courage and willingness to work to develop discipline."

This substitution finesses the problem, but leads us to ask, "What is the source of principles?" Spirit perhaps?

The systems thinking skill that allows us to include "the whole"  is "quantitative thinking." That is, there are many important, even absolutely critical, variables in a system can't always be measured, but they can be quantitatively estimated. Examples are motivation, morale, and burnout. We know they're important because we know that low morale can doom a project. The impact on other, including hard, variables can be quantitatively estimated. Without this thinking skill we are limited to "measurement thinking," where we must ignore everything that can't be accurately measured in a sufficiently timely and efficient manner.

Wilber's Dimensions & Quadrants of Reality
The need to take into account the unmeasurable Joseph Jaworski, in Synchronicity, The Inner Path of Leadership, writes,

"There's a wonderful section in [David] Bohm's book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, where he talks about the root of the word 'measure.'  "The western word 'measure' and the Sanskrit word maya have the same root.  The word maya in Sanskrit is the most ancient word for 'illusion.'  The prevailing philosophy of the East is that the immeasurable is the primary reality.  In this view, the entire structure and order of forms that present themselves to us in ordinary perception and reason are regarded as a sort of veil ... a veil that covers up the true reality which cannot be perceived by the senses and of which nothing can be said or thought."

An insightful and integrated look at the evolution of our individual consciousness, collective culture, and observable science is Ken Wilber's, A Brief History of Everything. It's a thoughtful and exciting look at how our Western world view has gone off the rail.

He observes that our Western culture emphasizes the "exterior," science, what can be measured; we tend to focus primarily on the "Right Side." In doing so, we do not give appropriate consideration to much of what's real: aesthetics and ethics.

Altogether these different aspects of reality represent the Greek's Three Spheres: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

The Greek View of Reality: the Good, the True & the Beautiful
Wilber describes reality in terms of four quadrants with axes:

Upper Left Quadrant interior-individual,  the "I":  consciousness, the mind, subjectivity, self, and self-expression -- including art and aesthetics; truthfulness, sincerity.

Lower Left Quadrant interior-collective,  the "We": ethics and morals, worldviews, common context, culture; intersubjective (interpretive) meaning, mutual understanding, appropriateness, justness.

Upper Right Quadrant exterior-individual, the "individual It":  the objective and empirical description of the exterior of individuals and nature (from individual atoms to individual brains, not minds), empirical science and technology used in objective biology and medicine.

Lower Right Quadrant exterior-collective, the "collective It":  the objective and empirical description of social systems, economics, the functional fit of individuals in society (what they do, not what they feel or think).

He puts these last two on the right side into just the "It", the Right Hand, because both are objective and empirical.

While Spirit manifests in all four quadrants, he observes that in our western culture we've condensed the real into only the Right Hand, the measurable and objective; we've almost totally eliminated the interior reality which is interpretive and subjective.  This has given our worldview a "flatland" quality.  He puts "systems theory" into the observable category and a part of the "flatland".

Wilber's Dimensions & Quadrants of Reality - Detail
However, we must distinguish "systems theory" from systems thinking and system dynamics. Systems thinking and system dynamics blend an interior interpretive perspective with an external observable perspective.

Much age-old and new-age wisdom and concepts are echoed in this field (page numbers refer to my paper, High Performance Thinking ... not available on website, but the points are valid):

  • Reality is defined by relationships, not things (p. 5).
  • The world operates in a circular and nonlinear manner, not linearly (p. 5).
  • Our thinking about these circular relationships is impaired by not using appropriate languages (p. 5).
  • Our beliefs create our reality.  By changing them we can create a new reality (pp. 1, 5).
  • We, individually and organizationally, tend to blame others, but we, not external forces, are primarily responsible for our problems. (p. 17, middle though not explicit; p. 13 on Treat the System)
  • We, individually and organizationally, are subject to structures that cause us to behave addictively.  Love, spiritual awareness and belief in a higher power are necessary to get out of addiction. (pp. 8-11)
  • Our tendency in our culture is to emphasize the measurable, but this leads us to undervalue many more important (immeasurable, but quantifiable) factors, (e.g., morale, burnout, motivation, creativity, ...). (p. 8, p. 20 note 26)
  • Our skillfully incompetent behavior and anti-learning defensive routines are the result of how we learn to protect ourselves when we are vulnerable infants and children.  Dropping these behaviors is difficult, because when we learned them, they kept us from injury or even death. (p. 16)

For more on the role of Spirit in escaping addiction, look at the papers on Addiction and The Crisis Syndrome:
The Crisis Syndrome: The generic structures that trap us in short-term, instead of long-term, thinking. (258K)
Escaping The Crisis Syndrome
: how to move from the short-term quick fix, to long term improvement. (133K)
Crisis Syndrome Recovery: specific approaches for individuals & organizations to move to a long term focus. (140K)

URL: http://www.exponentialimprovement.com/cms/spirit.shtml

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© 2003 Continuous Improvement Associates
On Freedom
"Maya": Illusion
What's Spirit Got to Do with It?
Primacy of the Whole
Mental Models & Beliefs