Monday, April 25, 2016

Blogging and Systems Level Thinking

Why do I blog? I get this question a lot. It usually, by definition, comes from someone who knows I blog, and who has probably read a post or two. They usually know I'm busy, with obligations both personal and professional, and sometimes the question comes from a place of wonder. How do I find the time? Sometimes they recognize the risk, having read enough to know that many of my posts are me thinking out loud, sometimes about subjects or people I should really keep to myself. Then the question comes from a place of fear. Why would anyone wish to expose themselves that way?

But whatever the source as the question, it always makes me stop and think. Why do I blog? I'm usually able to come up with a number of answers (it allows me to practice my communication skills, it builds my brand, it connects me to people I wouldn't otherwise meet), but after writing last week's post on an association CEO sometimes having to set the Terms of Engagement, a new answer to this common question suddenly occurred to me.

Blogging forces me to think at a systems level.

Even though many of my posts are about the professional challenges I face as the staff executive of a trade association, I have come to generally stay away from the specifics of any situation. Individuals are rarely mentioned, and I often avoid discussing any specific programs or objectives my association may have. These are rules I have self-imposed to minimize the risks of embarrassing someone in my network or of boring my readers. Too much detail about people and programs the reader doesn't know would be unproductive, I think, for both the reader and the blogger.

Which puts me immediately into a systems mindset. When something challenging is going on in my association, if I want to think about it and dissect it on my blog, the restriction against individual people and programs forces me to take a step back. What is really driving the issue at hand? Look past the people and the program. What are the underlying circumstances and assumptions that are bringing the difficulty about?

That's exactly what happened last week, and exactly what has been happening for many weeks in the past. If I can only write about the systems-level challenges my association faces, then writing about my association forces me to look at things on a systems-level.

And this mindset, nurtured by blogging, pays other dividends as well. Because, frankly, if you want to make real change happen in any organization, then you better be thinking about how you're going to address underlying circumstances and assumptions, not just people and programs. A systems-level approach to problem solving is a necessary tool for leaders looking to accomplish big things.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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