At the place where I work, we make sure that every PR consultant is familiar with Systems Thinking.
Why? Because the world is complex and interconnected and deductive thinking usually addresses the symptoms and not the cure.
Deductive thinking assumes that the world is a simple place. When problems crop up, find an immediate solution and that should be that. Except in life, nothing is so simple. The problem may seemingly go away but it will surely rebound, and often with a vengeance.
Take, for example, the responses of Indonesia’s leaders to the Rafael Aurel Trisambodo case. Rafael, a Director General in the Tax Department, as we know, was outed as a tax dodger and most likely venally corrupted person when his son beat a 15-year old senseless. The boy’s friends exposed the son’s ostentatious display of wealth on his social media accounts and started a chain reaction which saw public outcry, the incarceration of the son and dismissal of Rafael.
So the problem, to our deductive thinker leaders, is ostentatious display of wealth and therefore the simple solution is to tell them to stop showing off their wealth.
We have the President Jokowi saying so:
He was echoed by Finance Minister Sri Mulyani, who went one step further:
Getting into the act of a call to moderation is Teflon-coated head of Police Listyo Sigit:
So if we follow the logic of deductive thinking this should end the problem of ostentatious displays of wealth.
A Systems Thinker, however, would see it differently. They would, for instance, employ the Iceberg Model to dive under the surface and look for interconnectedness between such events (ostentatious displays of wealth) with patterns of behaviour, underlying systematic structures and mental models to see how they can have a holistic and sustainable solution to the situation.
A simplistic (because right now all I’m doing is guesswork as I have not done any in depth research into this issue) analysis using this framework, for example, might lead you to conclude that such events (ostentatious displays of wealth) are caused by a a certain of Pattern or Trend – that such displays are normal, even expected, throughout the higher classes of officialdom and society.
What Underlying (Social) Structures led to these patterns? A justice system that upholds a culture of impunity, where the rich and powerful are often above the law and never held responsible or accountable for their misdeeds.
But what led to the establishment of such an underlying structure? A value system where the strong are justified to exploit the weak (if my reading of Ong Hock Ham’s treatises on traditional Javanese society are correct)?
If that is so, then the solution cannot be solved by attacking the symptom (ostentatious display) but the cause – the mental model that gives rise to a chain of causes ending in the events we see. Perhaps a solution would b e to go back to the call of Mental Revolution first propounded by Jokowi when he too office?
A PR professional trained in systems thinking would be able to point this out and guide the leaders into addressing the cause rather than the symptom – assuming, off course, that the leaders have the best long-term interests of the country at heart, and the PR person is seen as a strategic management partner, not a factotum to churn out press releases and attend to social media critics.
Systems Thinking can be a very powerful tool if PR is allowed to play its strategic role in the management of enterprises and organisations. PR professionals should rise to the challenge and equip themselves with Systems Thinking because the world ins an interconnected and complex place.
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