How Systemic Design can help for Circular Economy?

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Andrew Thomson, Certified consultant in Perth, Australia.

Andrew Thomson is a great specialist of Systemic Design and Circular Economy. In this interview, he explains us the links between these two topics and enlight it with concrete examples and analogies.

Hi everyone. I'm with Andrew from Perth in Australia. Hi Andrew, how are you ?

I'm good, thanks and you ?

Great, thanks. I'm really glad to launch this new podcast with you. Today, I would like to talk with you because you're kind of expert of this topic on how design thinking and systemic thinking can help us to redesign our economy and to make it more regenerative and circular. So first I propose you to introduce this.

"Humans have been designing stuffs for thousands of years"

Ok, so basically you know there is a lot of pipe around design thinking, human systemic design, and also a sort of business model development. For me, as a designer, I am studying industrial design, humans have been designing stuffs for thousands of years, it is nothing new. An engineer design and develop something, an architect, politicians develop a policy that is still developing something, designing something.

The benefits of design thinking must really come up with this analogy around football. Football in every styles and approaches to play. Playing football in the same way has there is different styles and approaches to developing something to designing something. Really, design thinking is quite similar to a style of a football game.

In Europe, 70s 80s, came the total football with teams like Holland, then Barcelona. This concept of total football with sort of seeing football as something more than playing to win it was about playing football that was trying to score goals that was entertaining that was focused on the players abilities and having a little bit of structure but not too much but trying of sort of entertaining the crowd and was very much about solution-focused, trying to score goals rather than other types of footballs in different countries like UK or Italy that may be more sort of defensive and a sort of problem oriented so problem on how do we stop the other team score in a goal. And the players can essentially move around on the pitch and sort of things emerged so they are trying you know to give the opportunity to try things that won't work, this won't work.

This is sort of become or became a bit of a culture. Barcelona, for example where I think it was after Johan Cruyff manager with Bobby Robson. Yes, it was in nineties right or something like this ? Yes I think it was after the world cup in Italy. And basically he went there, he brought in his approach that wasn't a total football approach and the team was recently successfull they were winning a lot of games but the Barcelona club didn't like it, it wasn't entertaining football. It wasn't a type of football that anyone wanted to see.

"Entertain people and create value for the people that are there"

The analogy is a sort of used to a sort of show that we can develop things in many different ways. In the same way you can play football in most different ways but at the end of the day this total concept of total football is similar to design thinking. It is looking to entertain people and create value for the people that are there, it is not just about trying to push something out, an approach that is very sort of restrictive.

Do you see some great examples of this football system, this way of thinking, in company for example?

Yes, if you think of the way companies have used design thinking, one common and one which are used later on to sort of contrast with the system thinking as well.

That's may be not so much circular but just taking the concept of taxis companies, compared to company as Uber, Uber looks the experience. They are looking at what the crowd want but also how to improve the experience of the driver who is essentially the player. Design thinking helps them essentially to transform what was quite established in the industry very quickly. There is a lot of different examples, many companies use design thinking. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't, same as football. Sometimes a total football approach doesn't work, other times it does, it depends on the situation.

In general, products, services, structures, systems that we live within can benefit from design thinking but also think that it is not enough in the same way that just focusing on how to play the football without seeing a bigger picture is also not enough.

Yes, you're right it's a great example for the user experience, but we saw in several countries like India or even in France that they were running out of money because they were stuck in the Uber system.

"In system thinking, the main thing is the ability to zoom in and zoom out and see things at different perspectives"

Yes and this is the point I was gonna make. How Uber is really a sort of stack up ? Is it good that 24 percent of every dollar is now being pulls out of the economy every time you have a taxi ride with Uber? Where is that money actually stayed in a local economy before? There is a lot of different things so. This concept of seeing a bigger picture is really important so we're going back to the football analogy and Barcelona again. Barcelona's slogan is "més que un club", which means "more than a club". The club is actually own by the supporters. It is not perfect but things are done in a slightly different way and it is a club that other places in the world look towards and try to do things right.

In system thinking, the main things is the ability to zoom in and zoom out and see things at different perspectives. We are talking about football in general. You might talk about total football as an approach to play football then is the ground, then is the impact of the team has. How does football impact the society, the league, the players ? A lot of stuff that they do can actually bring benefits to many people in different areas, different parts of the world.

Maybe we don't make those connections so. System thinking is the abbility to zoom in and out and are being able to see pounds of the the time, are trying to understand relationship, trying to see different stakeholders and perspectives, undertsanding where they come from, the different mental models and also if we carry on doing this what are the consequences on doing this. So going back to the example of Uber. What are the consequences of 25 percents of a dollar going to the US from all the different places around the world?

We've got a great service there. It is not much human centered design, but it is very much customer centered design and it is about how can we give them the best service so that we can make the most money.

That ability to go to that next level is truly important. Some of the companies that was in a similar space to Uber, a company like Lego made a significant system shift. They tried to think what can we do. Are we just a toy company or can we offer additionnal uses with the product that we've got? What is our economic responsibility, environnement responsibility?

The point with the example that you mentionned "Lego", it's a bit like in Barcelona, I mean the purpose of the organisation is commonly shared by all the different stakeholders I mean the employees, all the different key actors know why they are doing it together and that makes the difference as well.

I mean they take the most systemic holistic approach to what they do, it's more than just a business. So with Lego there are moving now into this "Lego Serious Play", moving from a design thinking tool to a systemic type design tool. The benefit is that they are not seeing themselves as a toy manufacturer but a toy that adults actually play with and explore, there is something in that.

It's the same with the total football, we need that play, that experience.

Your example with football is great because we see that, for example, Ajax in Amsterdem, they had many years where they totally forgot their main principles maybe their purpose as well and for a few years now, I think it wass in 2010, they got back to their purpose and they refund all there system, even their player choices, they educated their young players as well.

And now they are back in the game. I mean they are in the semi-final of the champions league in 2019 and that was unbelievable for footbal fans one year ago.

"Why are we really doing this ? what is the purpose of it ?"

Yes, you know, these are examples. When we start speaking about trully human centered design, it is going beyond focusing on just the use it comes to the point of questionning on what is it to be human ? and it is the same with the football club. What is our purpose ? What is the purpose of the things we are designing ? What is the purpose of the system that requires us to develop that stuff ? What is the economy that is upon the things that we use with some of the workshop we run here ?

What is the economy and why circularity involves to get people to really begin the underlying purpose of why do we get up everyday and do what we do ? It's really important that people have that deep understanding and ability to zoom in and out and not get tied down into the details without seeing the bigger perspective. And that esssentially what system thinking is really about or trully human centered design is being able to see things in a holistic approach and asking better questions: why are we really doing this ? what is the purpose of it ?

If people want to know more on a system thinking or a design thinking what are the books or videos that you recommend to them ?

There is a lot of differents books it is quite system thinking itself being around for many years and nothing is just coming into it now. There is very differents books if you just type design thinking in the Google you'll find a lot of different stuff but one of the place to start with is the work of Donella Meadows, they sort of try to bring the concept into the main stream and it is really about trying to tell a better strory. Somes systems thinkers have spent a life trying to get people into system thinking, but being able to understand the story is the more important.

More than anything for the lot of the work that we do here is that abbility to zoom in and zoom out.

Being able to see things at different points really help. Use that as a sort of mental nudge. We need to zoom out a little bit to see this in a bigger perpsective, see the connections, see other things, what system this thing we are working on fit withing ?

And maybe we don't need to solve the problem that we saw, maybe there is an other problem that needs looking at. This is the technic of the 5 why that we use. You don't need to create all those fancy diagram. You just need to have the ability to see the connections between different things, to see the connections between the crowd and how we play football and the stadium and the city and the clubs and the youth academy and the impacts that we are having around the world from football. It's the same about design thinking if you are working on something you must see those things.

I just have couple more examples, one of them is the Fairphone, this ethical smart phone: it is create a phone that is great to use but can also unbuild obsolescence so that we dont have something that last for two years. You're being able to have this blocks you can add in, things which doesn't need to be changed, these separates components enable you to offer a life being extended.

Other technologies that are sort of a facilitative for thinking in this different way and doing things by the difference. One of them is a solar chain which is like a like a block chain technology. It is looking to create decentralized internet. We are so tied up on our computer with the internet: how do we create trust between people ? There is a thing that is really beneficial: I can go back to the human standards. What does it mean to be human and be tied to the bigger world?

"We are all sort of interdependent and we must be able to say where one start where one end."

The things are happening and they are not always 100% successfull because they are swimming against the streamers, a development, an innovation. But it's really about pushing the boundaries. Unlike with football, there isn't a real winner or end goal, but it is about the enjoyment of playing it, of watching it. If you bit the team and bit them up so there is no good team to play against. This is the thing that we need to think about with our economy as well. What is the angle ? Do we really need to destroy all our competitors ?

It is finding that balance.

We talked about the great example in football but we have the total opposite as well with club like Manchester City or the PSG in France all based on money, artificial money. And we see the players are not about to win actually because they don't give themselves for something bigger than just them.

They are not about to give there best and we see the difference between club like these or Barcelona or even Ajax, big clubs like those that's a true difference actually.

And I think this is the mind step, that within the culture, within the places where we live and work, it really requires us to open up our thinking and really question our values and what am I doing. Especially with all this different reports. This is the first time for a long time we have the opportunity to really do some great stuff and chance to create real value. It is a really interesting time.

Thinking about ideas, taking ideas that create real value rather than simply a bit of value here or here.

We need to think about really for me in the stuff with this regenerative economy people get the linear to the circular thing. The people shallow about what is the economy ? And I think these are questions we need to ask ourselves. Where does the economy start and stop with ? Where the society start and stop ? Where is the actual environnement ? They are all part of life. We are all sort of interdependent and we must be able to say where one start where one end.

Thanks Andrew, I think it's a great conclusion.

We must ask ourselves exactly what's economy and now indeed we need to create value not only for the users but also for all the system around him and all the ecosystems. Let's forget only about financial economic values because there are so mush more to create actually. Thank you very much Andrew for this interview and see you soon.

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