Systems thinking could yield different outcomes

Let’s talk about justifying the recent Baltimore looting and violence.  I pose the following example of not using Systems Thinking, and invite your remarks.

While listening to the news about the Baltimore looting, I caught a piece where an African-American man was interviewed about the looting. This situation was triggered by the suspicious death of a young man who appeared to have been injured while incarcerated.

The gentleman being interviewed was vocal about the looting “being perhaps not the best way to express frustration, but still justified”. He was referring to an Asian-owned store that was seriously vandalized during the recent rioting. The Asian-owned store was across the street from another establishment owned by African-Americans. That store, after having their glass front broken down, was defended by other African-Americans from further looting and vandalizing. The Asian-owned store was not similarly defended. Once the glass front was breached, the store suffered complete destruction of its contents. None of the neighborhood residents defended the store as they had the African American-owned store across the street.

The African-American interviewee shared a recent experience with the reporter. The Asian store owner turned him down when he requested one week’s credit to pay for a shirt he needed for a job he had just landed. He had made a case to the Asian store owner that he was a regular patron at the store, and that the store owner regularly saw him around the neighborhood because he lived there. But his request was refused. Because of that, the African-American man said he felt the vandalism the Asian store owner suffered was, and I paraphrase from memory, “somewhat justified”.

There are arguably moral arguments to discuss on both sides, particularly if we look at the situation strictly from an analytical standpoint as opposed to a systemic standpoint. Also, we don’t know any details of the neighbors’ relationships which could color this further.

systems Thinking might have produced different results

However, if we consider a Systems Thinking approach to this matter, there is one thing that stands out for me. If the Asian store owner had looked at the larger picture, he might have considered that his potential loss by granting his customer credit for a shirt might be less than $20.00. On the other hand, the goodwill and relationship-building that might have occurred could have actually produced a much different outcome for the Asian-owned store. And that is assuming the African-American gentleman reneged on his promise to pay later that same week. I expect he would have been true to his word, as he told the reporter.

Neighborhoods everywhere thrive or suffer on the relationships of their residents. People are naturally helpful and generous. We see this time and time again, in close-knit neighborhoods and in far flung relationships. An example is the global support for Nepal as it recovers from a devastating earthquake.

Simple understanding of the broader effects of relationships can help prevent most of the negative actions that too many people suffer from daily.

If the Asian store owner had taken a step back to consider all the angles and possible outcomes, he might have come to a different conclusion. Quite possibly, his store might have been equally defended by the neighborhood residents. Down the road, he might have also seen an increase in store sales because of the actions he took to “help” a frequent customer. And he might have solidified his relationships with neighborhood residents as a result, becoming more a part of the fabric of the neighborhood. But we’ll never know.

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts.

This entry was posted in Strategic Thinking, Systems Thinking and tagged , by Eric Denniston. Bookmark the permalink.

About Eric Denniston

Eric Denniston has proven experience with strategic business planning and financial management systems and processes. Working with non-profit and for-profit organizations, he has worked with leaders on corporate governance, leadership development, business planning, and strategic management challenges. He has also trained sales development and technical teams. His business planning activities include global businesses, resort, hotel and residential development and international healthcare projects. Eric has native fluency in Spanish and English and is also highly fluent in French. He has a masters in international management from Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, AZ.

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