Systems Thinkers Needed

Been doing research on different kinds of “design” processes, how designers work vs. engineers vs. social workers vs. computer scientists, etc. (which is conveniently proving to bridge my thinking from IDSE102’s wicked problems to IDSE202’s systems & service design.)

Found this video of Don Norman who says we need more “systems thinkers” who can think broadly across a variety of specialized disciplines to help them talk to each other and to orchestrate their collaboration.

YouTube: Don Norman on Engineering Design Education

I think the same critique applies to Design Education as well, since we train “graphic designers” or “industrial designers” or “fashion designers.” We’ve had some debates in class about generalists vs. specialists, T-shaped designers, etc.

While I think there is value in specializing in something, and our culture definitely values it more (you get paid more if you are a specialist), I’m wondering if you can specialize in being a generalist? if you become a good systems thinker, does that become your specialty? Even though a systems thinker works and knows across a broad range of fields?

In other words, can I get paid eventually to be a generalist? Or do I still need a value-added specialist knowledge silo?

Here’s more Don Norman talking about systems thinking: “A product is more than a product.”

In reality a product is all about the experience. It is about discovery, purchase, anticipation, opening the package, the very first usage. It is also about continued usage, learning, the need for assistance, updating, maintenance, supplies, and eventual renewal in the form of disposal or exchange. Most companies treat every stage as a different process, done by a different division of the company: R&D, manufacturing, packaging, sales, and then as a necessary afterthought, service. As a result there is seldom any coherence. Instead, there are contradictions. If you think of the product as a service, then the separate parts make no sense–the point of a product is to offer great experiences to its owner, which means that it offers a service. And that experience, that service, is the result of the coherence of the parts. The real value of a product consists of far more than the product’s components.

…the most important aspect for the delivery of a cohesive experience is systems thinking. It is amazing how few companies understand and practice this.

And any product or service in the social sector (shelter for the night, free books for kids, mobile Care-A-Van) is a part of a larger system. And we need systems thinkers to coordinate the delivery of cohesive experiences (home ownership, education, healthcare).

How do you train/educate systems thinkers? And/or how do you focus the systems thinkers that do exist in the world toward social issues? And how do they then make a living doing important work?