As my collection of Medium stories expands, it is perhaps wise to help current and future readers find their way.

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The question that keeps me awake is “What does it mean to be a systems thinker?”

This reflection guides me in a lifelong process of personal and professional development.

For convenience, I am grouping my posts here under four headings.

I’m not a great fan of the moniker ‘systems thinking’. It suggests that it is all just a matter of thinking, of intellectual constructs and tools. But a systems approach is in my experience first and foremost a matter of systems practice. Life is a ‘wicked problem’ that invites us to take a humble stance of beginner all the time…

An invitation to reinvent oneself, in humility.

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Recently I had an honest conversation with a team of entrepreneurs. I recognised the pain they were voicing. And the odd thing was that I was surprised by my own recognition. Because, obviously, many of us who have been (and are) investing untold amounts of energy in their entrepreneurial project, have similar experiences. Only, we don’t talk about it.

I’m not alluding to the pain of failure in the market place, or rejection by potential clients or investors, which many experience as hardship. I’m talking about a sadly corrosive mix of aloneness, a feeling of not being understood and appreciated…

What does it mean? Why would I do so?

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I find it increasingly relevant to position myself professionally as a ‘postdisciplinary researcher’. What does it mean? Why would I do so?

I’ve had the privilege to work sustainedly on projects that have a bearing on acute, complex societal challenges. Invariably our consultancy assignments include a research component. But the reality is also that the client-driven nature of our work provides precious little opportunity for long-term foundational inquiry. As a result much of my research has happened in the margin, in my own time, or folded into pro bono commitments. As I am deepening my craft I feel there is…

A Systems Library, Vol. 20

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The ‘spaceship Earth’ meme has been circulating for over a century. It’s a half-literal and half-figurative way of speaking. Our planet is of course careening on its fixed orbit around the sun. And considered metaphorically as a vessel, it carries supplies — fuel, food, breathable air — which have to be carefully managed to guarantee the long-term survival of its human complement. The simile also suggests that the ship’s crew is aware of its mission and collectively knows the drill. …

A Systems Library, Vol. 19

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Another volume on the shelves of the Systems Library. Perhaps I need to start calling it the ‘Beyond Systems Library’ … Because with books such as Lois Holzman’s The End of Knowing and The Overweight Brain, Hanne De Jaegher’s Loving and Knowing, and Judi Marshall’s First-Person Action Research, we are charting new territory, beyond the perimeter of ‘traditional’ systems theory. And yet, there is no doubt that these insights are all deeply systemic ...

[When you read this review to the end and you wonder how on earth this way of thinking might ever find a practical application, then feel…

A Systems Library, Vol. 18

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The book is both in style and content unlike any other systems book I know. The terseness of the discussion — stretching to a mere 180 pages — and its obvious conceptual rigour make it at first difficult to approach. Even the title offers a puzzle. It took me a while to tunnel through to its deeper messages, but now I feel confident with the material and I find it informs many aspects of my practice in helping ‘change makers for good’ to hone their strategic conversation.

The breakthrough in my appreciation of Hoebeke’s work came when I realised how…

The shiftN Papers

A self-assessment in conversation with our clients

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This piece was written in 2017 by shiftN colleague Kris Ooms, with feedback and editorial support from myself. It reviews a series of strategy assignments in which both of us were involved in the 2012–2016 interval. Our approach to supporting strategic conversations in client organisations is constantly evolving. However, this piece still meaningfully captures the spirit of our work.

Over the years shiftN has coached several non-profit organizations in their strategy review process. During the coaching process we help our clients to work through questions of existential importance. At stake is their long-term viability. …

A Systems Library, Vol. 17

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Donella Meadows’ Thinking in Systems is for many the first book on systems thinking they read. This is probably the only title in the field that deserves the status of bestseller. Yes, it’s a good book. It deserves to be read. Still, I am also going to be critical about it. Read on.

Donella Meadows died in 2001 at the age of 59. Thinking in Systems was posthumously published based on a draft manuscript that had been circulating for years. Diana Wright edited and restructured the material to make it publishable. …

The shiftN Papers

Our collaboration seen through the lens of organizational inclusion and exclusion mechanisms

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“We have at our disposal tools, notions, and efficacy, in great number; we lack, on the other hand, an intellectual sphere free of all relations of dominance. Many truths, very little goodness. A thousand certainties, rare moments of invention. Continuous war, never peace. We lack simple, democratic intellect for man.” — Michel Serres

In this longish piece I’m going to take a deep dive in shiftN’s organisational DNA. Readers unfamiliar with the orientation of this publication are invited to have a look at our introductory post.

This may look like a blueprint, but it isn’t. The image presented is not…

Launching the shiftN Papers

Reflecting on the experience of working in a fluid organisational setting

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The shiftN Papers (TSP) is a publication centered on the shiftN experience. ShiftN is (so to speak) a boutique consultancy based in Belgium. For the past 25 years we have operated as a loosely structured network of professionals. We do not claim to possess the ultimate blueprint for self-organisation. But there is no doubt that our attempt to sustain an ethos of place-seeking and chosen accountability in a web of collaborative relationships has been a learning opportunity for all involved. We don’t pretend to have achieved anything more. TSP offers a canvas to reflect on this experience. …

Philippe Vandenbroeck

Facilitator @ shiftN ⎹ Post-disciplinary researcher @ Newrope, ETH Zürich ⎹ How to create spaces were life is able to unfold, and is experienced as life?

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