Open Thinkering


TB871: Toast and wicked problems

Note: this is a post reflecting on one of the modules of my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. You can see all of the related posts in this category

Tom Wujec has a TED Talk which focuses on systems thinking diagrams. The subject? Making toast. It doesn’t take long to watch, and there’s an accompanying website at

Some of the key insights are around the importance of links and nodes, and also the ability to rearrange them, say by using cards or sticky notes. Wujec also comments on making systems models as a group, saying that we can handle more complexity because we talk things through, coming up with branches and ways to incorporate different perspectives on the fly.

From the course materials:

From my perspective, I consider the three STiP heuristic activities corresponding to Wujec’s explanation to be as follows:

  • Understanding interrelationships (uIR): the act of visualisation is key here, though it is of course also relevant to both eMP and rBJ. In order to ‘understand’ how things may connect, it is often helpful to visualise the components that comprise the situation. Various types of ‘pictures’ are one diagrammatic representation. Wujec uses more specific system models and employs the terms ‘nodes’ and ‘links’ to exemplify such component parts of a system.
  • Engaging with multiple perspectives (eMP): moving from individual to group exercise in systems thinking is exemplified by use of moveable sticky notes or cards to make rearrangements of, and additions to, the nodes and links of the system model.
  • Reflecting on boundary judgements (rBJ): the term ‘iteration’ comes up frequently, both in relation to initial individual diagramming and to collective group diagramming. The process of iteration is essential in STiP practice. Iteration signals the necessary flexibility required in making boundary judgements, and the need for ongoing reflection of such judgements.
(Open University, 2020)

Also, there’s an element of joy in working visually and gaining a bigger picture. It can also be genuinely interesting to see how others view the world, and to try and combine multiple perspectives — hence my interest in systems thinking!


One thought on “TB871: Toast and wicked problems

  1. See the work of lindstone and mitroff re multiple perspectives.some will always take a very specific world view irrespective of the context eg, some people only take a corporate view, .eg, vennels at the PO. Some will only take one very specific technical view.

    Furthermore what is complex, complicated or painted blue are descriptions assigned by an observer not intrinsic properties of an entity.

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