Book Review: Learning to draw the Big Picture

The importance of system thinking is ever on rise as the world becomes more and more interconnected

Learning to draw the Big Picture - CIO&Leader
It is ironic that in a culture where sacred texts start with teaching the importance and characteristics of the divine ‘wholeness’ (the invocation of Isa Upanishad), thinking in whole or ‘system thinking’ is so conspicuous by its absence. 
 
Never has the importance of ‘system thinking’ been as evident as it is now, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected; and solving problems in isolation can no longer said to be a valid, let alone sound, method.  
 
What is more, with technology making things more and more open and interconnected, people are increasingly realizing the value of the ‘whole’—that is not segregated into small parts, thus breaking a hundreds-of-years old legacy of reductionist approach. Whether it is the Internet itself or the ctyptocurrencies and blockchain, they proclaim the superiority of this systems approach, where complex systems with no one centrally controlling it have provided immense value and benefit to a world which still sees thing, by and large, in parts.   
 
‘System thinking’ is becoming essential for businesses to succeed. A book for practicing managers on the subject, like Systems thinking for Effective Managers: The Road Less Traveled by Prashun Dutta and published by Sage, hence, is an extremely relevant and timely effort. 
 
Dutta, who has served both as a management consultant and a CIO (Tata Power and Reliance Infrastructure), is no stranger to the real life situations and expectedly the book is replete with typical situations that managers can relate to. 
 
“Attempts at isolating problem situations and then developing solutions for the same without considering the whole context are most likely to fail. In this regard, one has observed the practice of trying to import a solution that may have worked elsewhere. While one may adopt the thinking behind a solution implemented elsewhere, it will necessarily have to be adapted to the context at hand,” writes Dutta. 
 
How familiar it sounds! Few practicing managers would fail to identify with such situations. 
 
There are many examples from real corporate world—from manufacturing companies to IT companies; from business issues to IT project management. Once you go through them, you will surely relate to them. 
 
The challenge, however, is to find them as they seem almost hidden inside the descriptive text. That is the essential issue with the book. It is neither a ‘chicken soup’ for the managers, written in heady easy-to-refer format nor is it a systematic primer to ‘system’ thinking. Nor for that matter, and out-and-out academic book, though Dutta’s work does exude significant academic indulgence.
 
The book is essentially presented as a journal of the author’s learning journey, though loosely categorized into various aspects of ‘systems’ thinking—right from basic definitions to areas such as complexity management, management styles and leadership. The author tries to show the utility of systems thinking or looking for the big picture, which he confesses to have discovered as being synonymous with wholeness or completeness of the picture and not really their ‘bigness’. 
 
Essentially it is a reader’s book; not a referrer’s book. You have to invest time to read it sequentially and absorb. The original analysis and presentation style of the author is sometimes very enlightening and engaging. But you must fully commit to it. It is not a book that you can flip through. So, for those going through a training program or academic program, it is a welcome addition to systems approach literature—a book with so much of practical insight. But it is not a book that will help you on the go. To that extent, the name may be a bit misleading. 
 
In essence, it is a very good book on systems thinking for those who are willing to invest on learning; not a guide book that can be referred at will. 
 

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