Mindful Systems


The benefits of standing still and looking around at the systems around us never cease to reveal themselves.

Mindfulness is something that is most often associated with individuals. Mindfulness is a pillar of Buddhist practice and is increasingly being used in clinical settings to help people deal with stress and pain.

Mindfulness sometimes get unfairly linked to individuals, groups and movements that, for lack of a better term, could be described as ‘flaky’. Its association with many spiritual movements can also be problematic for those who are looking for something more aligned with science and less about religion or spirituality. Yet, the spiritual and scientific benefits of mindfulness need not be incompatible. Google, while innovative and often unusual in the way it runs its business, is certainly not flaky. As a company, it understands the power of mindfulness and has hosted a few talks on its application to everyday life and its neuroscientific foundations and benefits. For companies like Google, promoting mindfulness yields health benefits to its individual staff members, but also to its bottom line because being mindful as a company allows them to see trends and the emergence of new patterns in how people use the Internet and search for information. Indeed, one could say that Google with its search engine and productivity tools could be the ultimate mindfulness company, aiding us to become aware of the world around us (on the Internet anyway).

We are often profoundly ignorant of the systems that we are a part of and while the idea of having us all sit and mediate might sound appealing (particularly those of us who could use a moment of peace!) it is not a reasonable proposition. One of the things that meditation does is enable the mediator to become aware of themselves and their surroundings often through a type of mental visualization. Visualization allows the observer to see the relationships between entities in a system, their proximity, and the extended relationships beyond themselves. In systems research and evaluation, this might be done through the application of social network analysis or a system dynamics model. Through these kinds of tools that allow us to enhance visualization potential of systems, this is almost akin to creating a mindful systems thinking tool.

My colleague Tim Huerta and I have been developing methods and strategies to incorporate social network analysis into organizational decision making and published a paper in 2006 on how this could be done to support the development of communities of practice in tobacco control.  I’m also working on creating a system dynamics model of the relationships within the gambling system in Ontario with David Korn and Jennifer Reynolds.

By creating visuals of what the system looks like consciousness raising takes place and the invisible connections become visible. And by making things visible the impact, reach, scope and potential opportunities for collaboration and action are made aware. And with awareness comes insight into the connections between actions and consequences (past, current and potential) and that allows us to strategize ways to minimize or amplify such effects as necessary.

1 thought on “Mindful Systems”

  1. Hi
    This is good! Just to let you know that there is a complexity methods conference in San Antonio in January 2010. if you are interested i will send you the flyer. Are you on the academic.edu complexity primary care discussion group?

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