Adrian Terry

Mr Adrian Terry


Advanced Problem-Solving Partnership Ltd


Developing systems thinking capability

Systems Thinking is providing a way into some of the most complex problems known for example, in addressing sustainability, climate change, renewables, organisational design and high technology.


Understanding of the attributes and skills of a Systems Thinker is a topic still under development.  In many ways it is akin to leadership.   Difficult to define but you know when you have one.  Characteristics include:

  • Ability to see the whole picture
  • Changes of perspective to explore complex systems
  • Search for interdependencies
  • Consideration of how mental models create our futures
  • Pays attention and gives voice to the long-term
  •  “Goes wide” uses peripheral vision to see complex cause and effect
  • A focus on relationships and patterns
  • Finds where unanticipated consequences emerge

It may be characterised by its innovation, creativity and exploratory nature.  This differs from more traditional thinking and remains somewhat under-developed.  Differences in thinking style may lead to conflict if not understood and deftly navigated.


Different thinking styles are associated with preferences for different types of solution, workplace environment and preferred leadership style, amongst a host of other factors.  Unsurprisingly, in traditional professional environments systems thinkers are in the minority and experience such things as:

  • Rejection of their thinking style – and ultimately them;
  • Questions over value;
  • Mis-understanding of purpose, intent and widely differing perspectives on success;
  • Difficulties in managing expectations;
  • Difficulties in communication;
  • Lack of support and engagement;

Following the logic of discounting behaviour, too often things that are different may be perceived as threatening and thus have to be ignored, reduced or eliminated.  If systems thinkers are in the minority in organisations there are potential consequences for:

  • The way systems thinking is embedded and rolled out in organisations;
  • The way systems thinkers are developed and deployed;
  • Management of potential workplace climate differences.
  • The way systems thinkers engage with others, including selection of tools and techniques to help bridge the gap.

Developing a systems thinking capability requires an understanding of the origin of these differences and take informed action to militate these effects to allow Systems Thinking Capability to grow and flourish. 


We have undertaken preliminary study with Engineering Doctorate students at the Systems Centre Bristol University and with the International Council of Systems Engineers and are looking to extend that work to determine specific pathways to the successful integration of systems thinkers and their views to provide the world superior product and service development. 

Introduction to APSP

The Advanced Problem-Solving Partnership (APSP) (previously Achievement Advance Ltd) is a new social enterprise dedicated to the release of human creative talent to make the world a better place.


Every major challenge or opportunity we face is complex, with no predetermined pathways, requiring increasing levels of collaboration, problem-solving and engagement. 


Our goal is to help release the full potential of people to create long-lasting new and better solutions to these challenges. 


Part of the international global thought-leadership of The Creative Problem-Solving Group with strong links to The Systems Centre, Bristol University we have a rigorous, extensive history in understanding how people work through complex problems. And we continue that journey each day.


We draw upon a wide range of research traditions and proposed responses (such as: systems thinking; lean thinking; design thinking; project management; creative problem-solving) to provide an integrated response.  


We work on changing the way problems and opportunities are perceived and skills for engaging with them.  We support drawing on technical and tacit knowledge to the fullest and bringing the ‘whole person’ to the problem. This creates the mindset to engage more readily with difficult situations and not avoid them.


We provide process leadership. This enables robust pathways to be identified and created so everyone knows what to expect, where they are in the process and what happens next. This creates flexibility, rigour and enables people to engage without binding bureaucratic procedures. It yields flexibility and agility without sacrificing rigour.


We help create the context for success. Research shows that the context people work in significantly determines how they will respond. We help identify and create the conditions that enable people to engage, collaborate and creatively address complex challenges. This improves pro-activity, engagement, responsiveness, creativity, innovation, speed to resolution and wider systemic thinking.


We focus on how. Tools are there to help improve efficiency and effectiveness. We find a widespread emphasis on learning and applying new tools but less on how to use them wisely. We focus on developing the discrimination to select the right tool and use it in the right way to yield results. This gives engagement, efficiency and effectiveness across the whole process rather than one step at a time.


Our approach has successfully supported in areas as diverse as implementing Systems thinking, Lean thinking, decision taking, in innovation and R&D, in schools, in scenario planning, in conflict management, in project management, in the third sector, in the bid process, in strategy development and increasing risk-taking intrapreneurialism.


We are interested to work with anyone who wants to consider how to better address complex challenges or prepare others in doing so. To find out more contact us:

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