Much of what we see is shaped by structures and forces that cannot be seen. Building systems awareness means mapping the flows between actors and things. This requires attention to financial, people, and material flows. It also requires innovators to be attuned to the legal, economic, and social forces that might shift the flows.
Building awareness is important for a few reasons.
- It is an essential part of understanding the problems to be solved by the innovation project; the problems inform the boundaries of system awareness, and system awareness further informs the understanding of the problems.
- It mitigates risks, as you can see the parts of the system that may be hidden from view and can affect the innovation and its implementation in unexpected ways.
- New opportunities may come into view that have a lasting impact because the innovator can see the global and long-term forces at play.
In building awareness, it is important to be comprehensive. It helps to consult a broad range of stakeholders who may be affected by or influence the problem, including those who are often invisible or powerless. The most unlikely stakeholders can help see into systems that are otherwise hidden.
There is a risk of facing information overload when building awareness. Awareness maps proliferate and form spaghetti-like diagrams. Once the various systems come into view, it is necessary to cut through the complexity to simplify the maps. Innovators must carefully and deliberately identify the key nodes and flows related to the system’s problems to reduce the noise.
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