Systems Thinking for Entrepreneurs in Italy


Outdoor exercises were used to introduce systems thinking techniques to a group of 40 young entrepreneurs in Italy by Dr Dave Carter. The 18-34 year old group were asked to use visual feedback to individually decide when to stop moving based on two anonymous target persons being equidistant from the individual deciding. After 15 minutes of moving around the open space, the group converged on a stable solution to this decision making problem: one participant having a visual impairment was assisted by one of the organisers in helping to make this decision. It was explained that if the rule was for three target persons at equal distance from the person deciding then finding a solution would be difficult, taking far longer reflecting a divergent task. This exercise showed that using eyesight as a feedback mechanism to compare amounts (in this case distance) was a common way for us to make proportional decisions. A further exercise introduced the difficulty of judging timing in human decision making. This exercise gathered the group into a circle where each clapped their hands in a clockwise sequence unless the leader clapped twice at which point the direction of sequential clapping would reverse by becoming counter-clockwise. This was shown to be largely successful as only two other people had to make rapid decisions either side of the leader based on audio feedback (rather than sight as the tempo was raised). When the rule was widened from the leader to anybody reversing flows, decision making became distributed across the whole group and many mistakes were made. This demonstrated the concept that rapid decision making needs good information to be reliable and that human systems for deciding using feedback suffer from overload and delay. Both ideas were then used to explain the importance of feedback from specific customer groups in the context of social enterprise businesses. It was agreed that obtaining the widest range of views from groups who can be socially excluded will offer new opportunities for those starting businesses.

Contact and further information

Dr David Carter, University of Plymouth