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Sheryl Cababa on Systems Thinking for Designers

Sheryl is the author of the soon-to-be-released Closing the Loop: Systems Thinking for Designers.

With a background in journalism and political science, and having worked at or with Adaptive Path, Substantial, Frog, Ikea, Microsoft, and the Gates Foundation, Sheryl has an interest in the big picture of systems thinking and how it applies to designers.

Working on projects of enormous scale that could directly or indirectly affect thousands or millions of people can put researchers and designers in a state of paralysis as they realize the potential consequences of their work. Systems thinking can help move us out of that state of paralysis and into one of thought, collaboration, and action.

Sheryl explains how systems thinking fills the gaps that design thinking alone can leave behind.
• Expand your scope from the user to anyone who could be affected by the product.
• Don’t just ask how the product will be used. Asked why the product is needed at all.
• Expand your thinking. Think broadly about who the stakeholders are and the various contexts that could be impacted by your design.
• Imagine different solutions that you might not be able to execute, solutions that might require a policy change or a different business model.

An approach like the above will feel slower – at least initially. If you have impatient supervisors and engineers, gain alignment with them by getting them involved in the process.
• Help them understand the status quo and envision the future.
• Have them go through the exercise of creating visual maps with you.

What you’ll learn from this episode:
• The relationship between design and systems thinking
• How design thinking falls short
• How systems thinking fills in the gaps by expanding your thinking and looking outside your scope of expertise
• Why systems thinking feels slower but is more collaborative and more efficient in the long run
• How to gain alignment with your decision-makers

Quick Reference Guide
[00:00] Introduction
[01:44] Ways to overcome decision paralysis
[04:55] Navigating the complexities of the world through systems thinking
[06:45] The problem with formalized systems thinking
[08:24] Design thinking vs. systems thinking
[13:22] The kinds of interventions that drive successful innovation
[15:42] How long-term thinking helps overcome compliance issues
[17:38] The difference between Cloud Space and Clock Space
[22:10] How designers can tell their superiors to slow down
[25:22] An easy way to gain alignment with your decision-makers
[30:38] Sheryl’s gift to the audience
[32:05] Parting thoughts