Gosh, I am utterly and completely psyched about the work by conducted Dr. Esa Saarinen and Dr. Raimo Hämäläinen. I just finished reading ´Systems Intelligence in Leadership and Everyday Life´(thank you Esa for the “työkappale”) and I recommend chapter two (as an intro) to anyone with interest in the fascinating interconnectedness of our human existence. These essays are nothing short of seminal for those working toward creating a more positive human future.
Systems intelligence (SI) is a key competence we posses as human beings. It functions on the premise that we live within a network, all of our actions matter, and that we, as intelligent creatures, are capable of adjusting and correcting our behavior based on the feedback we receive from our environment (Hämäläinen, & Saarinen, 2007; Hämäläinen, & Saarinen, 2010). Basic systems thinking seeks to observe the network from the outside, but SI differs in that it seeks to understand these systems from within. Systems are dynamic and individuals cannot step outside the situation to reflect upon it, because this act in itself changes the system. Daniel Goleman (2005) describes that there are three qualities a leader needs. The first one is related to the emotional aspect of intelligence; interpreting and managing one´s own emotions in ways which are beneficial for different situations. The second one is about being socially capable of reading other people´s feelings and responding to them (Goleman, 2006). This involves having an intuitive sense of how the social world works. The third quality deals with a totally different capacity and is based on knowledge, seeing the big picture and having a solid grasp of it (Goleman, 1998). Systems intelligence encompasses all three of these dimensions. It includes both social and emotional intelligence, but it utilizes them from a broader systemic perspective (Vanhatalo, 2007). SI acknowledges the significance of small things (and of each individual as a crucial change agent) as being capable of causing huge effects, and is not limited to only social systems (or interactions), but includes all the varieties of systems within we are embedded in.
Dan Buettner (MAPP Summit, October 22, 2012) gave a brilliant, practical example of systems intelligence when he described the following story. As part of the Blue Zones community building effort, in Ohio (can´t recollect the city) they trimmed down trees which were shading the street lights and blocking the light from actually reaching the streets. Performing this small but meaningful act enabled pedestrians to walk outside with greater confidence and added to the repertoire of possibilities for an individual´s daily life in the community. The possible realities with completely opposite consequences. This a very practical example but SI is all about being in tune with the realm of possibilities available, and being aware that small positive changes can lead to unexpected benefits within the larger system. This attunement not only calls for emotional and social awareness but it leverages these skills to work for the betterment of broader context.
We are all connected to each other biologically, chemically and socially through the dynamic system of networks within which we all operate. This social element is the one dimension of the three which you can actually have an impact on today. Systems intelligence will create awareness of the systemic nature of all life, and of the important role each of us has within the large scale of things. Systems intelligence invites you to see yourself as a contributing agent of an interactive system (Saarinen & Hämäläinen, 2004), instead of a separate individual agent within a static situation.
Understanding the systemic nature of life can enable us experience a sense of belonging to something greater. Seeing oneself as a crucial component of the complex puzzle of life can also encourage a sense of responsibility for one´s actions within their group. The purpose of life need not be elusive and hard to find: it can be something as basic and immediate as striving for good moral and excellence in being human. How we choose to fulfill our part in this intricate web has significant future implications. We truly hold the power to inspire, elevate and lift others to reach their deepest potential. This is so fantastic, I can hardly keep it together! The idea that there is actually a way to make a difference…
I challenge you to perform little experiments within your network. Be conscious about choosing to contribute in a positive way. Note down how it feels for you, and also image what the future without your active contribution would have been.
Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam books.
Goleman, D. (2006). Social intelligence: The new science of human relationships. New York: Bantam Dell.
Hämäläinen, R. P., Saarinen E. (2007). System intelligent leadership. In R. P. Hämäläinen and E. Saarinen (Eds.), Systems Intelligence in Leadership and Everyday Life (pp. 3-38). Retrieved on February 11, 2013 from http://sal.aalto.fi/publications/pdf-files/rham07a.pdf
Hämäläinen, R. P., Saarinen E. (2010). The originality of systems intelligence in Raimo P. Hämäläinen, & E. Saarinen (Eds.), Essays on systems intelligence (pp. 9-26). Retrieved on February 8, 2013 from http://systemsintelligence.tkk.fi/SI2010.html
Vanhatalo, M. (2007). From emotional intelligence to systems intelligence. In R. P. Hämäläinen and E. Saarinen (Eds.), Systems Intelligence in Leadership and Everyday Life (pp.146-153). Retrieved on February 14, 2013 from http://systemsintelligence.tkk.fi/publications/rvan07.pdf