“You think because you understand ‘one’ you must also understand ‘two’, because one and one make two. But you must also understand ‘and’.” — Jalaluddin Rumi, Sufi Poet
The problem with reductionism is that it only focuses on the parts. It breaks down a system into little components, units that can be reassembled again. It forgets to see the connections between these parts.
Think of how technology has 2 sides to it — smartphones bring us freedom of space, we can work from anywhere. An average smartphone has a million times more processing power than Apollo era computers. Your phone can get you to the moon.
On the other hand, we have become slaves to time. We are always tuned in. We are always doing something. Our attention is held captive by an endless barrage of content we didn’t sign up for. Serotonin bursts keep us hooked, clocking an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes per day of screen time — an average 35 year old will spend 5.5 weeks of their remaining life staring at their phone. This is time that can be spent experiencing the world with folks we care about and who care for us, or changing the world in meaningful ways, meeting our true potential — not doom scrolling.
Not to forget the oceans of plastic from dead phones that are choking the planet.
I am not dissing smartphones — technology is our super power. But wielding of any kind of power requires an overseeing of cause and effect- how they relate to each other across a vast spectrum of living stakeholders — not just humans. The “and” in Rumi’s words is the relationship between parts. Relationships bring meaning.
We need to synthesise causalities to bring a system to life. Moving to EVs means seeing the relationship between batteries and the future — we have no sure way of revitalising or reusing dead batteries and seven years down these batteries will join the mountains of technological waste. So, maybe we need to fix that first before turning our planet into a crash test dummy for EVs.
Great customer experience needs an excellent back end. Blindly migrating current processes to a digital platform is a recipe for disaster — we are just moving old problems to new technology. A systemic approach would be to redesign the relationships between processes and people, effort and implementation — massive change in manageable chunks. A deep exploration of the “and”.
And this means going beyond 1+1 =2. It can be 11 or 159.4 or 2.5T. The whole is greater and deeper and more wonderfully ambiguous than the sum of its parts.
What does your stakeholder system look like? What new relationships can you explore in your work? What processes should retire? Give it a thought.