Good teachers and good managers are sensitive to their experiences and adjust what they do accordingly. We’ll know we have made real progress towards a sustainable society when the idea of a cyclic economy is commonplace (see image below).
Experience can provoke thinking – and thinking can enable decisions. Taking decisions can lead to actions. Reflecting on feedback from actions generates further experience and so the cycle continues and goes forward with inputs altered (see image of the experiential learning cycle).
ISO 14001, which lays out what is needed in an EMS (environmental management system), has iteration as a central feature (see image above): policy leads to planning; plans are put into effect and monitored against a standard, with appropriate corrective action; good management practices are sensitive to the state of play, respond to feedback, review the current system and make appropriate policy changes to spiral the environmental management system around and forwards.
Systems thinking means seeing situations in total ie as a whole, accounting for interactions, interrelationships and interdependencies between parts. Its joined up thinking, recognising and forming networks, loops and cycles. It is the opposite of reductionist thinking, where an explanation or solution is sought by breaking situations down into smaller components. Systems thinking is constructivist or connectivist, attempting to shed light on events that appear to be distinct by mapping linkages. In this way complex events are understood better by seeing the whole, often establishing that a system in total is different from what one would expect by just looking at individual parts or by adding the parts together. It is often the case, as Aristotle said in Metaphysics, that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’.