‘There ain’t nowt as devout as a convert’ – But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing

Written by Gareth Young on . Posted in Our blog

On this blog we have always made an effort to consider all sorts of points of view and perspectives; not necessarily because we are fair minded individuals but perhaps more because we are curious souls and therefore like a variety of ideas.


In many ways that makes us almost exactly the opposite of systems thinkers who, and here comes the generalisation, mock all who think differently and can’t understand why everyone is not a systems thinker. I’ve often wondered why this is and indeed whether it is an unfair generalisation based on my experience of people I’ve worked with and the iconoclastic John Seddon.


If you want evidence of the type of thing I’m talking about check out John Seddon’s monthly e-mail (well worth a read) or blogs such as Systems Thinking for Girls or Think Purpose (more on that one to follow).


So why is it? I think there are probably three elements that play into this.


Firstly, there is the nature of John Seddon and his role as chief evangelist for systems thinking. Seddon is a wonderful combination of brilliant, successful (his ideas are actually used in his business), practical (he’s not just a theorist and has published really useful books of case studies), engaging and deeply sarcastic. That combination draws people to him, makes people want to listen to him and convinces people that his solution is the right answer. I think it also makes people want to mimic his style; hence the cutting nature of many systems thinkers. I think Seddon’s style is reminiscent of other systems thinkers but I do wonder whether the style would be the same if the chief systems thinker in the UK was a milder mannered and more measured public speaker?



Secondly, I think people are worn down by the public sector and the offer of something that can bring about real change is so attractive they will hang onto it for dear life.


Finally, as my boss used to say, there ain’t nowt devout as a convert; everyone likes to be part of a new gang, having had the scales removed from their eyes and buying in completely. The feeling of having been wrong and now seeing the light makes you want to help everyone else to travel the same journey as you.

I mention this as reading posts by systems thinkers can often be thoroughly frustrating. Most of the time I feel like shouting at my screen and saying; ‘STOP moaning. If you are so bloody clever just get on and do something (or get a new job) and stop blaming everyone else you work with for being stupid.’


And yet if you can get past the hyperbole often these blogs have some brilliant stuff in them; and some of that brilliant stuff stems from the fact that systems thinkers see the world differently than many of their colleagues.


Let me provide a very simple example (I apologise for picking something so simple but this is a short post) from the Think Purpose blog with a post called The Day I Became a Policy Officer:

The first few paragraphs are the sort that makes me want to hit the screen:

As I’ve said before I’M A POLICY OFFICER! Like an Army Officer or a Police Officer except useless and no uniform.


FYI: He’s been a policy officer for two years…


The job of a policy officer isn’t to produce policies. It is to scout around for government, Non-go
vernmental Organisations, think-tank and other types of press releases announcements and using the power of ctrl-c ctrl-v you take a 150 page report in impenetrable language and turn it into a 6 page report of impenetrable language.

God knows why, and who they are for, if asked I’m guessing the answer would be “everybody with an interest“, which is as close as you can get to saying “I don’t know” without actually saying the words.


At this stage I felt like pointing out that if that’s what you are doing all day you really don’t get the job of policy officer and possibly should try a different job.


But then (s)he turns it all round and shows why it is worth investing the time in reading the post. What follows is a brilliant summary of a recent demos report into school accountability, all done through pictures and pithy summaries. All in all, it’s extremely good and right now you should click here and go and see it.


Now, as I write this I know that the policy officer in my council will be after me; he has been doing similar things, with varying degrees of success, for a while now and all without any systems thinking as motivation.

Nonetheless, my point is the same; if you can tolerate a bit of bluster and a heady dose of self-confidence with your business change it’s really worth engaging with the systems thinkers amongst your colleagues.


The outcomes will be well worth it.

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