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Systems Thinking is the Shortcut you’re Looking for

2022-09-03

I recently won a big personal grant, one that I had been pursuing for six years.

For four years, I kept focusing on writing the best possible proposal. I kept rewriting the text, tweaking the idea, trying all kinds of “hacks” in the content and layout, and pretty much tried all tricks under the sun always until the very last minute before the annual deadline. 

And kept getting brutally rejected. Not even close!

Two years ago, I changed the strategy. I started focusing on my INPUTs instead of focusing so hard on the output. I started reading more, studying classic books on how to write, developing my thinking instead of focusing on the object being created — the output, the 12-page proposal document

And I ended up winning it. 

I changed the inputs because I realised it’s the best way to change the output.

But.. let’s change gears for a second. 

Let’s talk about your brains!

Every action you do or don’t do is based on what you think. 

And what you think is based on what you know.

And what you know is based on your inputs.

Your brain is one of the most sophisticated systems ever to have evolved on this lovely little planet of ours. But despite the incomprehensible complexity, it’s a system. And because it’s a system we can look at it through the lens of systems theory. 

An entire body of scientific and practical literature explain how a system is a complicated entity consisting of interconnected parts, which cannot be seen in isolation. 

And whatever you’re trying to achieve but are not achieving, focusing just on the output is not always the right thing to do. 

Here’s a hard truth:

“Each system is perfectly designed to give you exactly what you are getting today.”

-W. Edwards Deming

Whatever your results today are, is just because your brains are perfectly optimised to produce that specific result

Okay, let’s turn this into practice. 

If you want to get better at X, achieve Y, or win Z, here’s an idea to try:

1. Get clear on what your outputs are 

What are you trying to optimize for? 

Make sure your output is something measurable in numbers. For instance, in my 9-5 at the university this can be “the annual number of articles sent for peer review”. Or at my side business, the easiest output to measure is simply “profit per month”. 

Think about the outputs, write them down, and find a way to measure. 

2. Zoom out and list existing as well as potential inputs

Most of your inputs are either information or action. 

You’re constantly learning something, right? You’re constantly reading something? What kind of stuff are you reading? What videos are you watching on a daily basis? What news do you read? These are all your information inputs. 

What are you doing on daily/weekly/monthly basis to pursue your goal? A lot of people get stuck planning, and mistake that for doing. Dreaming is not doing. 

What are you concretely doing, working, to pursue your dream?

These are your action inputs. 

And if you’re bold enough to admit that the current results you’re getting (the output of the system that is you) are not good enough, then you must have the guts to change the inputs:

3. Change the inputs and observe the output

Be fearless.

Spend money and buy a coach or a course. Reboot your YouTube and subscribe to different channels. 

Uninstall TikTok. 

Take violent action, but do something else this time. 

The same inputs that got you stuck in the first place are not going to work for you in the future either. 

For some reason, we’re just so hesitant to change anything. 

I don’t know if it’s comfort or something else, but it’s just too easy not to do anything and simply focus on the output. 

Even if the shortcut would be to change the inputs. 

Here’s to you,

Simo

About the author 

Simo Hosio  -  Simo is an award-winning scientist, Academy Research Fellow, research group leader, professor, and digital builder. This site exists to empower people to build passion projects that support professional growth and make money.

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