Thinking Frameworks

You might have heard or read about concepts like Systems Thinking and Design Thinking (both with and without capital letters) and asked yourself: what do they mean?

We see both of these are frameworks for thinking about problems. It’s somewhat confusing, but both systems thinking and design thinking are more than just ways of thinking, they often refer to a constellation of methods, tools, and approaches to problems.

For that reason, we tend to prefer using the terms systems practice and design instead. However, as frameworks for understanding problems, situations, and issues we see much benefit in using the term thinking.

Just like the image above: our thinking frameworks can help us determine whether we’re looking at the land, the sea, or both, together.

Why Thinking Frameworks?

Our mindset — the mental models, habits of mind, or ways of thinking about something — is the primary factor influencing what we do (or do not do). It shapes how we see the world around us, what we attend to, and determines what has value. When we become aware of how we think we reveal the biases (everyone has them) that direct our attention so we’re better able to direct them to where we want intentionally.

We use thinking frameworks in our work by starting out with identifying what kind of ones our clients are using. Ask yourself: what central ideas are useful to us in doing our best work?

This might include concepts such as: evidence-based practice, learning organizations, ethics stances (e.g., ‘green’), values-based frameworks, use-centred (e.g., words like ‘practical’ and ‘user-centred’). Any of these provide guides to what is valued in an organization. There are many more of these.

Exploring Thinking Frameworks

Once we’ve done that, we start to interrogate it (see what we mean by that narrative here). This process involves asking questions that connect what someone says, what they do, and what they accomplish. This helps to see where there might be alignment or misalignment.

In dynamic markets or communities it’s easy to see how an organization can be misaligned. Policies, strategies, and organizational practices are designed for a certain time and place using a certain kind of thinking framework and as things change so does the potential utility of what we’ve created.

By identifying how we think, we are better able to determine the benefits of it and make modifications.

A great tool is using visual thinking and simple sketch notes to illustrate our thinking. By visualizing what we think about we can better tell how we think.

Tools like the Cynefin Framework can also focus our thinking (in this case about systems) to help refine our mental models.

Don’t make this complicated. There’s no need to worry about coming up with the correct terms, language or model for how or what you think about. The key is to simply identify and become more acquainted with how you think, see the benefits that confers, and understand its limitations. By seeing the blind spots, you’re better at seeing opportunities.

Cense helps our clients see things differently so they can do things differently. If you want help seeing or doing things differently, reach out and let’s talk about how we can be of service.

Image Credit: Xhulio Selenica on Unsplash

Scroll to Top