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Decision Integrity (DIL) is a research and coaching enterprise working on holistic approaches that benefit sustainable systems, projects, communities, organisations and societies with special emphasis on transformative resilience.

Shifting our perception and our thinking from part to whole requires a basic change in how we approach the world and our knowledge of it. This is why the word ‘art’ is in the title of this session. The key is to seek a different understanding of the perception of wholeness. This requires us first of all to become clearer about the habits of thought that our analytical training gives us.


Firstly, we find that the logical linear mind cannot understand the whole. So we divide the whole into parts that are down-scaled so we can examine them. Secondly, we assemble the parts on the assumption that their addition will make up the whole. This process leads to what we call ‘counterfeit wholeness’.

On the other hand, if we are artistically inclined, we may fix our attention on the whole (for example the pattern of a painting) and then slot the parts that appear into that whole. This is the obverse form of counterfeit wholeness. Authentic wholeness is encountered as a non-sequential interplay, one might even say dialogue, between multiplicity and wholeness.


In a more technical sense there are some phrases in systems thinking that try to capture this.

For example:

a. Whole systems approach

b. Appreciating the system in question

c. Forming a rich picture

d. Finding the simplicity after complexity

In each of these four areas there are traps that easily collapse our attention into the mode of counterfeit wholeness.


In (a) it is being confined to a preexisting mindset that fails to see what the nature and scope of the whole system is.

In (b) it is failing to realise that however objective a system might look, its boundaries are only an aspect and the system of relevance may need to be seen from a wider perspective we have yet to recognise.

In (c) we may be gathering and displaying material in its diversity but failing to inquire and intuit the coherence of the picture.

In (d) we may shy away from the complexity and succumb to premature solutions. Alternatively

we may escape into analytical fragmentation.


The net result of falling into any of these  traps is a simplistic understanding rather than the profound simplicity that comes after immersing in the complexity.

The Traps Systems Thinking Seeks to Avoid