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How my thinking has changed

by Nishant Kumar Singhal , Grade 8, UWCSEA Singapore

At the start of the BTC¹ course, I had a very basic understanding of sustainability being about the four compass points, and about finding solutions that benefit all of the compass points. I had learnt this while working on my Grade 7 BTC action project, and I thought the whole concept was a bit overwhelming. I was fascinated with systems, and knew that they involved causes and effects, but didn’t know much about how systems can be mapped or used, and hadn’t thought of high leverage or unintended consequences. I was intimidated by the idea of using a system to achieve sustainability, but I was also curious to know how systems can be used and manipulated.

Over the weeks of BTC, by using tools like the compass model, iceberg model and toast model, I have learnt a lot about how systems work. While mapping out the system for my own central issue, I found that if I was patient and open minded, I was able to find a good leverage point. The concept of systems is still a bit intimidating, but I feel I am able to work with them well now. The challenge is making sure all the important nodes are present and the connections are accurate; sometimes research is needed to make sure of this. Once this is done, however, everything falls into place, and the solution is clearly and obviously apparent.

During the few weeks that I was working on my action project, I thought less and less about sustainability, and coming back to it, my entire view of what it is has completely changed. It’s not just about the four compass points, or about finding solutions that benefit them; sustainability is the ability of any system to continue functioning in balance. And since everything is a system, it’s really less about finding a ‘solution’, and more about making sure nodes aren’t modified so much that the entire system deviates from its state of rest.

I have also learnt a lot about leverage points, what they do, and how to find one. Leverage points are nodes that can be modified to have the maximum impact on the system; they are usually nodes that affect people’s mental models. This is the category that should be targeted, and we should find such a node within our sphere of influence that we think won’t have any unintended consequences.

I think a knowledge of systems thinking and sustainability will be immensely useful in the future, not only for Global Perspectives and action projects, but also for everyday decision making. This knowledge has allowed me to come up with a much more impactful action plan this year compared to last year in BTC, and as I gain more practice in systems thinking, I think I will be able to find better leverage points and implement better solutions.

¹Be The Change, a subject in Grade 8 at UWCSEA in which students learn about solving global issues

Submitted by Nishant Kumar Singhal (Grade 8), 2015, while studying at United World College of South East Asia, Singapore
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