T214: EMA – choosing a problem

My T214 study is approaching the end. I’ll be submitting the formative TMA07 on Friday, finishing off Block 4 in a few weeks, then engaging with the End of Module Assessment (EMA) in time to submit by the 12th October.

I need to write 5,000 words in the EMA. This seems like a LOT of words to me, but the EMA is split into manageable chunks and I’m fairly sure that I can create enough sensible content to get a decent mark. One part of the EMA requires me to find a problem to analyse, something that’s been in the news this year that I can apply my new, shiny systems practice techniques to.

I have a number of possible candidates for consideration; firstly, and most obviously, there is the biggest news of the year – the recent riots. There are a number of benefits to choosing this as my mess; there’s no end of potential material to use as evidence – from all sorts of perspectives – and it’s already been analysed to death in the media. It should be fairly easy to find relevant data on societal problems that may have contributed to the problem and potential intervention points. It’s also the most obvious subject matter to take forward into the EMA and I suspect many people will choose it.

Alternatively, I could pick something on the UK economy. The chancellor is keen to chop the 50% tax rate in order generate some impetus into the economy, while Warren Buffet has stated that the rich should pay more taxes. Economics is a true mess and the current economic problems in the UK would allow me to discuss all sorts of systems concepts. I also did A-level economics back at High School, so at least I have some background knowledge to draw on, even though I didn’t get a great grade. I’m tempted to go with this one, even though we didn’t cover economics directly in the course materials. I would find it interesting to do and it would give me a chance to look at both the Tory and socialist economic agendas.

I could pick something smaller scale and perhaps look at the “cloudgate” issues that caused a bit of a storm this year (pun intended). This was a mess that links into Climate Change and science reporting, and I could use the story to look at how science, and climate science in particular, is reported in the news. I have firm views on climate change (I’m staunchly in the science camp) and it would be interesting to look at alternative perspectives from a systems thinking point of view. There was a lot of discussion about the whole thing around various science blogs so I shouldn’t have a problem finding reference-able material.

I shall have a ponder. My current favourite is the economics one, but we shall see. It might be better to take on a smaller mess, or perhaps look at other stories in the news to find something different. I am more than willing to consider ideas if anyone has something in mind…

Crime in 20th Century Britain

Block 4 of my T214 course is concerned with examining crime and criminal behaviour from a systemic perspective. This is of particular interest at the moment due to the recent riots, and I’m aware that one of the concepts being raised is the viability and usefulness of prison.

I haven’t started on this yet but I did have a quick search on Google for crime statistics and found this rather interesting article on History Today about Crime in 20th Century Britain. It’s quite a long read but does give some interesting insight into how we’ve succumbed to rising crime figures over the last hundred years.

It’ll be interesting to see where this leads me.

T214: Activity 5.8 – analysing your messy situation

This activity asks me to think about the messy situation I’ve chosen for my assignments (Marconi’s descent into bankruptcy) by thinking about my feelings around that time. The question is:

Are there any aspects of the situation that you feel critical or guilty about, or where you attribute blame to others?

Superficially, I could rant along at length about certain people on the Marconi board who ruined the company (and I would be justified in doing so) but as I’m trying to learn some academic points from this exercise I need to approach it with a clear, unranty mind.

The thinking is this: criticism of others is often grounded in tension within ourselves, something subconscious that we’re not willing to accept. There’s an emotional aspect to being critical of others (rather than just corrective) that demonstrates something within us that we may not be aware of. If we can determine why we’re being critical in any particular situation then we can take a more balanced approach to solving whatever tension is causing us to be critical in the first place.

I’m finding it difficult to find my own failings or faults in this mess. I’m critical of the old Marconi board because they were incompetent idiots that ruined a profitable company. How am I going to discover my own tensions in this situation? Continue reading

T214: the problem with paradigms

I’m running a little behind with my T214 study but I’m determined to make a few posts about some of the subjects brought up in my readings. I may find these useful when I come to reflect on my learning.

One of the recent readings is concerned with “self-sealing behaviour”. This describes behaviour that reinforces your current beliefs; for example, a bully might persecute someone with low self-esteem, thus reinforcing the poor sod’s dim view of themselves. The reading talks a bit about blame, guilt and criticism, which I found to be quite interesting. Apparently, firms that employ a “blame culture” (whether they mean to or not) tend to have people that won’t accept any responsibility for their actions, and so avoiding any potential blame for failure. This makes it very difficult for companies to learn from their mistakes, as they sometimes won’t admit to having made any. Continue reading

T214 Block 3: Activity 1.3

Here’s another one of those OU-centric posts that will bore everyone stupid. Well, even more-so than my the usual crap I stick on here.

This is the first activity I’m writing up for Block 3. This new block focusses on social systems – systems made up primarily of people. People can be fickle, unreliable and mostly irrational so I’m guessing systems made up of these bags of meat will be even more unpredictable than your average telecommunications system.

Anyway, this activity requires me to look at some organisational problems I’ve experienced recently; three simple ones and three more complicated. The first are what are called “difficulties” and the second “messes”. The OU are using the term “mess” as defined by Russell Ackoff – some problems are so complex that they transcend just being difficult (with potential solutions and known boundaries) and head on into OMFG-what-are-we-going-to-do territory.

So, I must find some organisational issues to discuss. More after the cut.

Continue reading

T214: Block 2, Activity 1a – Climate Change

This activity requires me to “reflect on how a range of ‘thinking traps’ may influence how you engage with complex situations” by writing down what I think about:

“the causes of emerging environmental crises such as climate change, and what you believe could resolve these problems”

I’m not sure they could have picked a more complex problem to discuss, and there are certainly many thinking traps that the media, government and people in general have fallen into. I shall now expound on what I think I know about environmental crises.

Continue reading

T214: Block 2, Multiple Intelligences

The OU course notes have opened up a whole other can of worms about different kinds of intelligence. There has been some research by Gardner that revealed eight different types of intelligence.

These are:

  1. Linguistic intelligence. The ability to use a coherent narrative to communicate and organise thoughts.
  2. Logical–mathematical intelligence. The ability to investigate issues deductively and recognise/work with numerical patterns.
  3. Musical intelligence. The ability to recognise pitches, tones, rhythms and compose these into recognisable patterns.
  4. Kinaesthetic intelligence. The ability to coordinate one’s movements.
  5. Spatial intelligence. The ability to recognise visual patterns and relationships.
  6. Interpersonal intelligence. The ability to empathise with others by recognising their intentions, motivations and desires.
  7. Intrapersonal intelligence. The ability to recognise one’s own intentions, motivations and desires.
  8. Naturalist intelligence. The ability to detect changes in one’s own environment.

This is all news to me. I’m not sure whether to take this at face value (I’m guessing that I probably should given the nature of this course) but this seems to be one of those theories that sounds reasonable but might actually be a load of old cack.

Anyway, I think I do OK with the first three but I do struggle with the rest. My self-awareness is probably my weakest personal trait (Intrapersonal intelligence) as I’m barely aware of what my own brain is discussing half the time. I should probably do a bit more self-reflection.

This course aims to use all eight of these intelligences in order understand the complexity of systems. As Systems Practitioners we need to be able to verbally communicate our ideas in a way understandable to the average person (this will also be a challenge) while using all of our brain (and the eight intelligences within) to dig out the inter-related factors that might affect how a system works.

There’s lots to read in this block. More to come.