Derek Cabrera (PhD, Cornell) is a systems scientist, Professor, and social entrepreneur and is internationally known for his work in systems thinking, systems leadership, and systems modeling. He is currently visiting faculty at Cornell University where he teaches systems thinking and organizational leadership and design. He is senior scientist at Cabrera Research Lab, and Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer of Plectica. He has given two TED Talks, written and produced a rap song, a children’s book on cognition, and authored numerous book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles. His research has been profiled in peer-reviewed journals, trade magazines, and popular publications, and he is author of eight books including, Systems Thinking Made Simple: New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems (winner of the 2017 AECT outstanding book award), Thinking at Every Desk: Four Simple Skills to Transform Your Classroom, and Flock Not Clock: Align People, Processes, and Systems to Achieve your Vision. Credited with discovering the underlying rules of systems thinking, Cabrera is co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of Systems Thinking. His work in public schools was documented in the full-length documentary film, RE:Thinking. He was Research Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) for the Study of Complex Systems and National Science Foundation IGERT Fellow in Nonlinear Systems in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics at Cornell University. As a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow, he developed new techniques to model systems approaches in the evaluation of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Cabrera was awarded the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ K. Patricia Cross Future Educational Leaders Award. He serves on the United States Military Academy at West Point’s Systems Engineering Advisory Board. His contributions to the field of systems thinking have been integrated into NSF, NIH, and USDA-NIFA programs, K-12, higher education, NGOs, federal agencies, corporations, and business schools. His systems models are used by many of Silicon Valley’s most innovative companies. Systems Thinking Made Simple is used as an introductory text for undergraduate and graduate students in numerous colleges and universities including Cornell University and West Point Military Academy. Cabrera has developed and patented a suite of systems thinking tools for use in academia, business, and beyond. Prior to becoming a scientist, Cabrera worked for fifteen years around the world as a mountain guide and experiential educator for Outward Bound and other organizations and has climbed many of the world’s highest mountains. He holds a PhD from Cornell University and lives in Ithaca, NY, with his wife, Laura Cabrera, three children, and four dogs.
Have you ever known a very intelligent person who made a very bad decision? If so, you know that having a high IQ does not guarantee that you automatically make critically thoughtful decisions. Critically thoughtful problem-solving is a discipline and a skill—one that allows you to make decisions that are the product of careful thought, and the results of those decisions help your team and organization thrive.
In this course you will practice a disciplined, systematic approach to problem solving that helps ensure that your analysis of a problem is comprehensive, is based on quality, credible evidence, and takes full and fair account of the most probable counterarguments and risks. The result of this technique is a thoroughly defensible assessment of what the problem is, what is causing it, and the most effective plan of action to address it. Finally, you will identify and frame a problem by assessing its context and develop a well-reasoned and implementable solution that addresses the underlying causes.
When trying to persuade someone, the tendency is to begin in advocacy mode—for example: “Here’s something I want you to agree to.” Most people do not react positively to the feeling of being sold something. The usual reaction is to literally or figuratively start backing up. To make a convincing case, it is more effective to engage with the decision maker as a partner in problem-solving. This makes your counterpart feel less like someone is trying to get them to buy something and more like you are working together to bring about an outcome that is desirable to both parties. Begin by asking yourself: “What is the problem you and the decision maker are solving together?”
By the end of this course, you will have learned how to deeply analyze a problem, possible solutions, and the associated risks as well as the most persuasive and efficient ways of presenting your proposal.
Whether you need to tackle a complex project, communicate more effectively, rethink your organization or your job, solve world hunger, or figure out your teenager, systems thinking can help you. All of these are complex and challenging real-world problems, sometimes called wicked problems. We all confront problems, big and small, in our personal and professional lives, and most of us are searching for better ways to solve them. In this course, Professors Derek and Laura Cabrera will demonstrate how we can use systems thinking to solve everyday and wicked problems, to transform our organizations and to increase our personal effectiveness.
At its core, systems thinking attempts to better align the way we think with how the real world works. Our thinking is based on our mental models, but these models, created from our unique perspective with its inherent biases, are usually inadequate representations of reality. The Cabreras illustrate how we can use feedback to recognize and adapt our mental models so that they better align with reality, enhancing our problem-solving capabilities.
For systems thinking to be successful, it must be adaptive. In this course, you will explore the concept of complex adaptive systems, and while these systems seem unnecessarily complicated, the Cabreras will reveal a surprising discovery. Underlying all complex adaptive systems are simple rules, and applying these rules is the key to transforming the way we frame and solve everyday problems.
For organizations to succeed, they need to develop individuals who are constantly learning and adapting according to information on the ground. Sharing key mental models—at the organizational, team, and individual levels—is critical to creating a culture of learning that enables the organization to survive and thrive through chaos and complexity.
In this course, Professors Derek and Laura Cabrera demonstrate how to become a systems leader; that is, someone who can use systems thinking at the organizational level, at the team level, and at the individual level. You will create a culture for your organization that is built on shared mental models and develop techniques to incentivize thought leaders to support the culture based on your vision, mission, capacity, and learning. At the team level, where the real work of the organization gets done, you will explore the process of building, sharing and evolving mental models through collaborative mapping and feedback processes. And finally, you will turn your own thinking into doing, to ensure that your actions are aligned with key organizational mental models. With tools, techniques, and expert guidance, you can begin to implement systems thinking at all levels of the organization, creating teams and individuals upon which organizational culture, values, and success are built.
If you’re in charge of developing and leading strategic organizational change, there are certain tools and concepts you must be familiar with. In this course, the emphasis is on cultivating your ability to assess the need for change. By determining why your organization or team needs change, you’ll be able to better answer questions like: what should you change and how should the change be handled? You will explore the political and complex process of introducing change, which includes motivating others, dealing with resistance and the emotional elements of change, and finally, extending change over time and sustaining it. The course is designed to give you practice so you can initiate and carry out a change effort.