2016/07/25 11:45 Shankar Sankaran, “Think Hard! Act Soft!”, ISSS 2016 Boulder

Plenary @ISSSMeeting Shankar Sankaran, Keynote #isss2016USA, 60th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences and 1st Policy Congress of ISSS, Boulder, Colorado, USA

Day 1 theme:  Systems Thinking for Systemic Sustainability

Plenary II –Towards Holistic Systems Thinking

  • Description: Although every environmental agency today is calling for ways to manage whole ecosystems, we do not know how to do that. Our theories and methods to address the question of whole-system sustainability are incomplete and as a result our actions regarding individual processes, sectors, and resources can contribute to problems as much or more than to solutions. How can systems thinking help us move to another level of understanding where we can address the pressing complex systemic issues of inter-related socio-ecological systems to resolve the dysfunction of their often contradictory sectors and components?

Session chair:  Judith Rosen

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, posted by David Ing.

Shankar Sankaran is a Core Member and Joint Leader of the Centre for Management and Organization Studies, and Centre for Creative Design Practices at the University of Technology Sydney.  He is the VP for Research and Publications of the ISSS.


Shankar Sankaran, Monday plenary

[Shankar Sankaran]

Wasn’t born in Sydney, Australia.

  • In grandfather’s time in Karachi, which was at that time, a part of India
  • Moving from Karachi, ended up in the City of Joy, Calcutta, on the eastern side of India
  • Learned here, father was a scientist
  • Father moved to south of India, Madras (Chennai), became a control engineer
  • Went to Iran for a few years, then to Singapore in oil and gas and petrochemical
  • Left engineering side, and joined Yokogawa, famous for quality
  • Japanese Yen went high, so decided to create an engineering office in Singapore
  • Hired 100 engineers to focus on quality
  • Part of work would be subcontracted from Japan to India
  • Then Singapore costs went up
  • Japanese changed from subcontractor for Japan, to become a global quality centre, under the condition that they had to double income as a profit centre, and then half the cost at the same time
  • Even if business doubles, couldn’t hire any more engineers
  • Also all of the software work in Singapore would go to India, not doing detailed work, started looking into outsourcing
  • Technical issues, sending large files across to India
  • Quality in India?  ISO 9001, using the same checklist
  • As rational engineers, thought that would work
  • Got a contract from Dubai, handed software to India, hardware in Singapore, didn’t work
  • Had made sure all of the processes worked
  • Flew to Bangalore, went through all of the checklists
  • One manager asked them, how did they do it?
  • In Singapore, would get complete requirements, build, invite customers to test, and then hand over in 4 weeks
  • Indian customers never gave them requirements, so software would only do bits and pieces of work, and it would take 6 months to get the project done.
  • Didn’t understand, even though all of the processes were laid out, that the environment was different:  their customers didn’t treat them, as all of customers had treated us
  • After 3 years, 90% of the issues were people issues, and only 10% of the issues were technical issues that were solved easily

Left industry, joined a regional university in the Australian countryside, macadamia farms

  • Asked to set up an action research centre
  • Talked with Bill, a scientist, what is action research
  • He said we do action research
  • River, with commercial and recreational fishing, depleted
  • Commercial blamed recreational, and vice versa
  • Commercial limited by government
  • Decided to think visually, show that the number of fish going down
  • Worked initially, then didn’t work
  • Asked why did people fish?  Grandparents and grandchildren have time fishing together
  • So yes, have relationship, but then put the fish back

Young child in India who is a bonded slave

  • 70 years after India become free, this is still going on
  • Family in poor state, borrow money, can’t pay back, so give children
  • NGOs in India can access people, then have a big wall to do causal loop diagrams
  • Have to think hard, but how to act soft?

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas, and still function

  • Roger Martin, U. of Toronto says left brain harder thinking and right brain softer thinking

Australia, biggest problem, water is saline, one river going from north to south

  • Most solutions are about buying water, selling water

Will ask questions:

  • What’s our role in realizing sustainable futures?
  • How can we influence policy makers to act on climate change?
  • How do we help new generations to think systemically?

Day job is in project management

  • Need governance for people to do job
  • Governmentality:  everyone needs to think about what they need

So, how do find systemicality?

[Questions for three plenary speakers]

Slide on two queues.  Science fiction versus fictional science.

  • [Rosen] Fictional science wouldn’t be able to decoded to reality
  • Could be true, but can find the science to argue
  • Science fiction starts with a premise that this isn’t real
  • Defining science clearly, with a modeling relation

Looking at a science in different ways.  Model should be more complex and nuanced?

  • [Rousseau] Agreed, only had 40 minutes
  • Science isn’t the only knowledge
  • There’s different ways of doing science

Descartes is a western root to science.  There are many ancient, indigenous, old cultures, not rooted in Descartes. Have a plenary on Wednesday to discuss.

  • [Sankaran] Interview in projects, can’t do interviews, but can tell stories, yarning
  • [Rosen] Buddhist theory of mind in Vipassana training
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