Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Sufi teaching and systems thinking

Margaret Wheatley, in Leadership and the New Science, says:

One of the differences between new science and Newtonianism is a focus on holism rather than parts. Systems are understood as whole systems, and attention is given to ‘relationships within those networks’. Donella Meadows, an ecologist and author, quotes an ancient Sufi teaching that captures this shift in focus:

“You think [that] because you understand 'one' you must understand 'two', because one and one makes two. But you must also understand 'and'.”

The point, of course, is that the ‘and’ is represented by the system and the way it makes positive connections. Any organisation should be capable of adding two parts together without loss, though in practice many detract value (the book The Search for Leadership identifies all the places and ways in which leadership runs to waste). The trick is to manage the system that surrounds the parts in such a way that the total organisation adds net value so that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Then we might be able to claim that we truly understand and manage 'and'.