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Applying systems thinking to your course and business

The concept of rational and irrational thinking of two people. Heads of two people with colourful shapes of abstract brain for concept of idea and teamwork. Two people with different thinking.

At the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting on Saturday, July 4th, 2020 we learned from community member Rob Ruder about information systems as they relate to systems thinking in general, and online course creation in particular. Rob is the owner of IDIC Designs and an Adjunct Faculty Member in Gonzaga University’s School of Business Administration. His generous sharing of his systems thinking expertise is helping us all learn and get smarter...thank you, Rob!


What is

 systems thinking ?

How does it relate to your course and business?


As a nation, we've been getting a crash course on systems thinking in the form of a wake-up call about systemic racism. Systems thinking allows us to understand how things that might seem like random, unrelated events, may actually be part of an organized SYSTEM.


The movie 13thfor example, provides an eye-opening analysis of how the US prison system perpetuates the use of unpaid labor of African Americans... systematically perpetuating the economics of slavery.

Systems, clearly, can be good or bad... effective and empowering, or oppressive and disempowering. In order to understand the systems that affect all of our lives, we first have to be able to SEE them.

The Covid19 pandemic has disrupted systems at all levels across the entire planet. The healthcare system, the financial system, the education system,  travel and other industries, and many others have been profoundly impacted on a macro level.

And closer to our daily lived experience, our family systems and our daily and weekly ways of managing our lives (which are also systems), have all been thrown into upheaval. 

order and chaos. Chaotic unorganized colored dominoes and ordered. Concept of business model, organization. Left and right hemisphere of the brain.


How can you use systems thinking to optimize your way of working and teaching online?


At our weekly community meetings, we've been exploring how we can survive and thrive in the face of the challenges posed by the pandemic. The disruption caused by the pandemic in the way people work, meet, and learn provides  opportunities for online course creators to step up and fill the gaps created by the need to maintain physical distance while conducting business and helping people learn. 

Community member Janice Finglerwhose expertise includes exploration under conditions of uncertainty and risk, has educated us on aspects of the Cynefin framework, according to which there are different types of systems:

  • - ordered (Complicated, Clear)
  • unordered (Complex)
  • unordered (Chaos)

Janice explains that systems tend to release energy and move towards chaos.

Except under certain conditions (such as when we're falling in love, or discovering new things) humans  don't generally find chaotic conditions comfortable. So we put effort into trying to shift the systems we live in towards  efficiency and control.  

For a long time pre-Covid, we might have thought that our world was ordered and efficient - with most things being predictable.

We might have been unaware, too busy to notice, or feeling too small to influence what was actually changing around us, as global systems became hyper-entangled. This allowed the flow of almost anything - faster than before. That might have seemed like a good thing - until the virus hit.  

The pandemic has now disrupted our existing systems, that we had thought were "ordered" and efficient. But while efficiency remains important, adaptability and effectiveness actually serve us better during unpredictable times of change like those we're currently living in.

The conditions created by the pandemic have revealed systemic disparities in health care and wages and justice that impact some groups more than others. The good news amid all of this disruption is that our  human power of conscious choice matters more than ever. We can now see places where the ordered systems we took for granted were not always working to serve people, or the planet itself, in optimal ways. We can work to build better systems to replace them.

At our community meetings, we will continue to explore the implications of these disruptions for our courses and our businesses, and consider ways we can contribute to positive change.

How can systems thinking help you optimize your life, business, and online course, right now?


If you understand everything in your life as part of a SYSTEM, and start thinking about how those systems are (or are not) working, new levels of insight open up. In your personal and family life, you may have had systems that worked well before the pandemic, that have now been disrupted. For many families, their childcare system, or visits to older relatives, are no longer workable.

Are you still living in the chaos caused by the original disruption? Have you moved into a stage of disorganized complexity, or are you starting to cobble together a new system that may be complicated, but shows signs of an emerging new order?

Or do you actually have things dialed in now to where they are simple and clear? 


Was your business impacted, in either good or bad ways, by the disruptions the pandemic caused? Do you have (or can you pivot to create) products and services that solve pain points your clients and customers are experiencing during these uncertain times?

The Course Design Formula® is a system that helps you create online courses in a quick and efficient way. The Course Design Formula® system makes it fast and easy for you to  build effective knowledge transfer and motivational learner engagement into the design of your course.

Alison Heller-Ono, Physical Therapist and Board Certified Professional Ergonomist,  helps businesses and individuals optimize their working environments to promote physical comfort and prevent injuries. When her office-based business was disrupted by office closures due to the pandemic, Alison used the Course Design Formula® to  create an entirely new course offering that helps people work in comfort at home. (Check out Alison's Remote Work@Home Ergonomics Training for Individuals.) Having already mastered the Course Design Formula® system, Alison was able to quickly create a new course to address the needs of the moment for her clients and customers who suddenly found themselves working from home.

What can we learn from the insightful wisdom shared by Rob Ruder and Janice Fingler, and the inspiring example set by Alison Heller-Ono?

Here's my takeaway:

Having a system in place to accomplish a task, makes that task easier. 

What systems do you have in place to make your business run smoothly? What systems have you had to adapt, update, or change completely in the wake of the pandemic?  

eMyth is an organization that has done ground-breaking work in helping entrepreneurs apply systems thinking to their  businesses in practical ways. Check out their guidance for documenting your business systems.  Michael Gerber's book, The eMyth Revisited, is an excellent guide to setting up reliable systems for your business.

Horizontal composition of tooth wheel mechanism with Action Plan, Team, Goal, Strategy and Change concept related words imprinted on metal surface

If you'd like to set up a reliable system for creating an online course, the Course Design Formula® can help you cut through the chaos, complexity and complication to make it clear and obvious what steps you need to take,  in which order. To learn more about the Course Design Formula® you can:

At the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting on Saturday, July 11th, 2020, we will focus on how you can apply systems thinking at all levels of your life and business. We will leverage the power of community to compare notes about systems we've created or discovered that are working well, to make our lives, businesses, and courses run smoothly.

I hope you can join us!

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, July 11th, 2020

9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern

many people online in a conference call

Click on the green button to register for the meeting.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.