In the spirit of the new year, we talked to Dr. J. Gerald Suarez about how Systems Thinking can benefit your personal resolutions.
Dr. Suarez is known to EMBA alumni through our yearly sessions with the professor. Across the country, Dr. Suarez is known for both his introspective take on Systems Thinking and his research in Organizational Design and Total Quality Management. Dr. Suarez has also put his research into practice, serving in the White House as the Director of Presidential Quality for two administrations and with the Department of Defense. Today Dr. Suarez is a professor and fellow at the University of Maryland.
VEMBA: How can someone use Systems Thinking and Idealized Design to create a prosperous 2017?
Dr. Suarez: We may think that Systems Thinking only applies to organizations, but we are designers of ourselves as much as our work. The application of System Thinking to our personal aspirations is something that is often neglected. When we think about our personal and career goals, we must realize that everything begins with our desired future, just as it does in Systems Thinking. We have to ask: what do I want to achieve and what is my aim?
In Systems Thinking and Idealized Design, we assume that the system has been destroyed and we start from scratch. When deciding our personal goals, we should do the same. Imagine that all of your constraints have been removed. Whether it be less than ideal circumstances in your finances, work or home lives, assume that your restraints are now gone. When you envision your goals without these present-day constraints, you will find that new possibilities may come forward. Instead of thinking about overcoming obstacles, think about what is to be.
VEMBA: You talk about bucketing daily activities into those that serve our past, present and future. How could someone use this concept to achieve their goals?
Dr. Suarez: I have found that we tend to live and act in a reactive context. We often find that we only concentrate on solving yesterday’s problems and today’s crisis. In this way, we lose the opportunity to shape our future. We need to proactively think about where we are spending our time. Pay attention to how you are using your precious life fuel.
VEMBA: Is there a daily ritual we could incorporate into our routine?
Dr. Suarez: For one week, inventory where your attention is going. Categorize whether your actions focus on issues that originate in your past, present, or desired future. You will then have the data to see how much of your time is spent dealing with the issues of yesterday and today, and not of the future. We often neglect acting on those concerns that will have a greater influence in advancing our long-term aspirations because the future never feels urgent.
Everyday, think to yourself: what is the best future I could create? What contribution can I make to that bucket of the future? This may take the form of embarking on a personal reflection, calling someone, or establishing a first step in a wider plan. But you must commit to acting on those issues that will lead to your desired future.
VEMBA: You have also talked about turning personal anxieties into personal gains.
Dr. Suarez: With the new year, now is the time to embrace the notion that we can proactively bring about a better future for ourselves through our personal choices. I like the metaphor of riding the train. You may be going fast, but not know why you are going in a particular direction. Step off of the train and reassess whether or not you are speeding toward the right goal.
Mark Twain said “I have been through some terrible things in my life. Some of which actually happened.” Don’t allow yourself to create mental confusions and be intentional with your choices. Action motivated by insecurity may generate bigger efforts, but not necessarily better results.
Use Design Thinking to decide your end state for 2017. Make a conscious effort to be proactive enough to get there. Commit to bucketing more of your time into those activities which will move you toward your aspirations and you will realize your desired future.
We thank Dr. J. Gerald Suarez for his time. His book on using Design Thinking in our everyday lives, Leader of One, is available on Amazon. Dr. Suarez’s articles can also be read regularly in the Washington Post.