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

The focus of my Medium publications is systems thinking and practice.

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.

Systems Being

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…

How symphony orchestras can fight a crisis of legitimacy

A symphony orchestra, silently seated on a brightly lit stage in a darkened concert hall filled with an audience buzzing with anticipation, is a beautiful sight to behold. And when the first sounds emerge from this resplendent instrument one is filled with feelings of awe and gratitude for this beautiful legacy of 19th century bourgeois society.

Patrons of one the oldest orchestras in the world, the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, Germany, used to enter the hall beneath a stern expression of the Roman philosopher Seneca: Res severa est verum gaudium, or: True pleasure is serious business. …

A Systems Library, Vol. 22

“We must decide on peace amongst ourselves to protect the world, and peace with the world to protect ourselves.” — Michel Serres

Systems science seems, at first sight, to be an exclusively Anglo-American affair. Indeed, the lion’s share of the bandwidth captured by systems matters seems to be devoted to thinkers writing from a British or US-centered lineage. In this Systems Library we also want to foreground perspectives from other intellectual traditions. At present there are already a few volumes on the shelves that reflect Eastern and continental European perspectives. It should come as no surprise that also the French…

A Systems Library, Vol. 21

Systems thinking is also political. This book offers a sophisticated, systemic perspective on how to live through these challenging times as a responsible and caring individual. It takes its cue from the observation that we are not showing any sign that we, individually and collectively, will be able to handle the existential challenge of climate change that is facing humanity. The book talks about crisis but the tone of voice is, however, not alarmist. Its aim is to bring us back to our senses and offer an actionable framework to make differences that matter while moving into a turbulent future.

An invitation to reinvent oneself, in humility.

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?

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

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

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

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.

A new lens

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

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. …

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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