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…


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. …


Meshing futures with systems thinking

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Future scenarios help us to understand how uncertainties in the world around us may interact to give way to different futures. The basic assumption underlying the scenario methodology is the following: we can’t predict the future, but we can articulate our expectations about the range of possible futures we are facing. That is why scenarios always feature in multiples. A set of scenarios is presented as a collection of usually two, three or four distinct narrative images of the future. Together they cover the horizon of possibilities around the focal issue we are trying to understand.

Causal-loop diagrams (CLDs, also…


How formative experiences nourish systemic sensibilities

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“It is incontestable that the void which we grasp with the pincers of contradiction is from on high, for we grasp it the better the more we sharpen our natural faculties of intelligence, will and love. The void which is from below is that into which we fall when we allow our natural faculties to become atrophied.”
— Simone Weil

In this piece I continue my exploration of the notion of systemic sensibilities in an attempt to better understand how we develop into system practitioners.

I borrow this notion of systemic sensibility from Ray Ison, Professor of Systems at the…


A Systems Library, Vol. 16

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This is the fourth book in a row by a female author that I’m adding to my Systems Library. Undeniably these feminine perspectives are adding something vital and distinctive to the systems discourse and practice.

Jocelyn Chapman digs into the personal lives of systems thinkers and practitioners and dares to put the ‘love’ word in the title of her book on cybernetics.

Judi Marshall lets a very sensitive and experimental approach to ‘living life as inquiry’ unfold against a background of elusive systemic patterns.

Cognitive scientist Hanne De Jaegher puts forward an enactive perspective on the way we develop knowledge…

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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