Sunday, January 25, 2015

Make Soup Like A Systems Thinker (or Think Like a Soup-Maker)

If you know how to make soup, you already know a lot about systems thinking.

At CI this month we launched our MOOC,* the Climate Leader, an introduction to the skills of systems thinking for people taking action on climate change.

There’s no one-size-fits-all definition of a systems thinker, but this afternoon as I puttered in the kitchen, it occurred to me that soup making offers a pretty good metaphor. Here’s a short list of things that all systems thinkers and all soup makers know:

The quality of the whole depends on the health of the parts.
The best carrots in the world won’t save the soup if the cabbage is old and rubbery. The best-resourced sales team in the world can’t save a business if the engineering department is stagnating. Pouring more wealth into the top 1% of families won’t produce vibrancy in the whole society if other families are struggling.

To get good results you have to look beneath the surface and back in time.
A major factor the deliciousness of my pot of soup today is that all the ingredients were grown right in our backyard. The freshness, the taste, the texture, the nutrients, all derive from the conditions of the soil, the care of the harvest, the attention to storage and preservation.

Focus on the health of the parts, and the quality of the process - then let the results emerge from your efforts.
You might know the individual tastes of potatoes, squash, beans, and leeks and still not quite know how the soup that melds them all would taste. This is emergence, that quality that is so mysterious and so fundamental to our lives, our communities, and our collaborations. Systems thinkers and soup makers both focus on quality, take care with the process, and then sit back and allow the magic of system (or the soup) to reveal itself. 

Like any art form there's more to systems thinking, and more to soup making, than these three simple ideas. But they are a start, and I'd welcome your additions to this short list. 

*MOOC = Massive Open Online Course

Friday, January 23, 2015

Warmth in the January Cold

Cobb Hill barns and greenhouse. Photo credit Jenna Rice
January has been a month of bitter cold with all of the challenges that brings: cars that won’t start, frozen stock tanks in the barn, and paths that, without a good coating of sand, are slippery enough to skate on – not a good idea, given the steep slope of some of them!

But even in the deep cold and the long nights, there are spots of warmth and light, all around. 

On the most bitter cold days, the sun pours into to our tight little house and Phil, the girls, and I all strip down to short-sleeves as the temperature rises towards eighty degrees, even while it hovers near zero outside. Phil and Jenna pore over seed catalogs and garden visions grow bigger and more exotic by the day.

Quilt assembly. Photo credit Coleen O'Connell
In the common house Coleen has spread beautiful quilt squares of bold, vivid colors across the dining room tables as she assembles not one, but two, quilts for the two-month old twin babies of friends. Each of the squares was made a by a different friend, and Coleen is lovingly stitching them together. These will be lucky babies, nestled into works of art that also embody stories from the past and hopes for the future. 

Seed catalogs and quilting projects, cozy houses, and warm cups of tea - there are all sorts of ways to be warm even in the coldest days of winter.