Lean practitioners are familiar with the wonders of system simplification. Simplify a work process and the baggage needed to manage a complicated mess evaporates with it. For example, eliminate the reasons for using a warehouse, and poof; the inventory control systems for the warehouse also disappear.
Why do we complicate simple processes? One reason is that we add steps to cope with a temporary abnormality, but don’t drop them after it is over. Or we don’t rethink processes as products and services slowly change over time, but make do with twists to old systems. When we do stop, recalibrate, and rethink, we may begin with a process mapping exercise to start getting reacquainted with reality. Simplifying a process is a learning exercise. It nudges us to uproot assumptions that we let grow unawares.
The same thing happens with buildings, like the adage about student union buildings at universities, “They are not planned; they just grow.”
Extend this thinking to processes that closely interact with nature. Unless we are farming or doing yard work, few work processes appear to connect closely with nature. Connections are not immediate and obvious. But somewhere deep in an obscure supply chain, or in the natural systems that service what we physically do without us thinking about them, those connections exist.
Improving life while using much less will take intelligent intervention in systems that we may never fully understand. Even a home gardener dealing with a natural system realizes that problem solving is intervention in a complex system, never completely understood. One cannot comprehend in complete detail how soil, nutrients, sun, and water convert seed into healthy plants. Every variable of nature can affect this process. Despite this, humans have been learning how to intervene usefully in growing processes for millennia. That’s practical systems thinking. It is not new.
“Free enterprise” dependent on growth in consumption is an era coming to an end. Instead we need free enterprise developing into decentralized ingenuity coping with this change, resolving problems by intervening in the systems that support life, and quality of life. Work with nature instead of against it to make problems melt away. This is an unending process because most interventions are apt to induce follow up problems. There are a few people left on earth that live by constantly intervening in nature to maintain a balance favorable to them, rather than constantly trying to overpower nature. They may not appear to work very hard, but they are constantly vigilant and thinking about what they observe. It’s a mentality very different from market-based business thinking.