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The Rosenfeld Review Podcast: Boon Yew Chew on Systems Thinking as a Relational Tool

Boon Yew Chew is senior principal UX designer at Elsevier and an IxDA local leader and board alumn. He will be a speaker at the upcoming 2023 Enterprise UX Conference on June 6th and 7th, delivering a session on “Making Sense of Systems – and Using Systems to Make Sense of the Enterprise.”

Systems thinking can seem abstract and theoretical, but Boon reveals some unexpected ways that systems thinking can have a profound impact on individuals and relationships within organizations. Who knew that systems thinking could be an emotional intelligence tool?

Lou and Boon begin today’s episode by discussing the history of systems thinking and how it developed in the ‘40s and ‘50s, mostly within scientific communities, and grew into other fields and disciplines. It offered a new way of thinking about how things develop and change over time.

Boon goes on to describe his path into systems thinking and how, with its holistic, big-picture perspective, there is little room for blaming individuals when problems are viewed through a systems thinking lens. A system can give context to the behavior or clashes within an organization and alleviate frustration. Believe it or not, systems thinking can be a relationally lubricating tool.

Systems thinking can help us answer the following:

  • Where do I fit?
  • Where do the people I’m serving, working with, developing with, and creating for fit within the system?
  • How is the organization I’m part of itself part of a bigger system?

A summary of Boon’s insights:

  • Systems thinking helps us understand context, empathize, and understand other people and the context they work in
  • Systems thinking provides a visual language that other people can learn from
  • Language can help reveal not just problems, but how problems relate to each other even when they may not seem connected
  • Systems thinking is a tool that can help with prioritization

What you’ll learn from this episode:

  • The history of systems thinking, especially how it first developed within scientific communities
  • The differences between systems and design thinking
  • How systems thinking can reduce finger-pointing and relational conflict
  • Why it’s best to embrace messy differences as part of the process
  • How to bring systems thinking into the workplace without confusing or alienating others

Quick Reference Guide
[0:00:12] Introduction of Boon Yew Chew
[0:02:31] System thinking versus design thinking
[0:04:44] The history of systems thinking
[0:08:51] Being trained in one framework and finding it incomplete in the real world
[0:10:32] Boon explains how he navigated towards systems thinking
[0:16:12] When you feel like your goals are clashing with those of others in the organization
[0:19:08] On labels, understanding, reducing friction, and acceptance
[0:22:16] Enterprise UX 2023 is back!
[0:24:19] Boon’s Enterprise UX talk is titled “Making Sense of Systems and Using Systems to Make Sense of the Enterprise.” Applied aspects of how UX people are using systems thinking in enterprises
[0:27:17] Boon “eats his own dog food” and does “double work”
[0:27:52] An example of what success might look like
[0:31:45] A summary of how Boon uses systems thinking
[0:35:29] Boon’s gift for listeners

Resources and links from today’s episode: