Systems thinking, tinkering, being

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

Philippe Vandenbroeck
3 min readMar 28, 2021

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. The tinkering is, therefore, an emanation of systems being, a distinctive way of looking at and being in the world. Wicked problems morph into wicked opportunities. Intervening turns into caring. I’m trying to be reflexive about my own stance as a systems-thinker-in-practice and my posts under this heading are a by-product of that reflection. Two typical posts in this thread:

Systems Tools

Tools and frameworks do have their place in systems practice. Occasionally I post pieces that deal with finer points of futures and systems techniques. My aim is not to offer detailed how-tos but to share elements of craft that I find useful in my own work. Exceptionally I zoom out to discuss methodologies and frameworks with a wider ambit. Here are typical reads in the Tools section:

Systems Library

I’m patiently building a collection of reviews, a library of books that communicate a spirit of systems thinking, tinkering and being. My choice of books is inevitably idiosyncratic, which is why I’m dubbing it ‘a’ systems library and not ‘the’ systems library. I try to be catholic in my tastes, pushing the boundary of what might be considered to be core systems curriculum. In fact, with my selection of titles I’m pursuing multiple ambitions at the same time:

  • Foreground the work of female systems thinkers and practitioners;
  • Refocus our attention on classic but forgotten or unread works in the systems canon;
  • Draw attention to authors with strong systemic sensibilities in the realm of fiction;
  • Show how the systems mindset pervades other scientific or practice-based disciplines (such as cognitive science or artistic creation).

Posts that belong to the systems library can be identified by their title which starts with the author of the book. Here are two volumes to give you a feel for the library:

Systems Hacks

Life pulls us in different directions. However, it is important to create a space for ourselves that facilitates our development as systems thinkers in practice. Time to rest, to reflect and create is key. As is solitude. And contact with generous mentors. Although it remains a challenge, I feel I am always getting better in shaping these conditions. I am happy to share successful experiments and practices here on Medium. Two nudges for onward reading:

Soon I will also start to contribute to a brand new publication — The shiftN Papers — which will offer a variegated perspective on life within the team I have been part of these last 25 years. Another entry point into an exploration of the social nature of systems being. More on this very soon. Stay tuned.

It’s a privilege to be able to share my thoughts via this platform with curious and respectful readers. Don’t hesitate to get in touch, ask questions or suggest systems-related topics about which I might write.



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?