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Systems Thinking

The Big Idea for Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How good is the U.S. Congress at problem-solving? The consensus is that it's not very good, and this is due to "A-to-B thinking." Bound by cycles -- both economic ones and electoral ones -- Congress approaches problems one by one, as opposed to looking at a system as a whole.

In today's lesson, Neil deGrasse Tyson argues that if we wish to create a culture of innovation, we need to start using systems thinking. Tyson's preferred analogy is NASA. This government agency's mission is not to solve problems one at a time, but rather to pursue big, audacious goals like space exploration. In order to achieve this goal, a different type of thinking is required than what we normally see in Washington. 

Tyson demonstrates that many steps are involved in bringing big ideas into practice. If we approached problems in total isolation, but a band aid on one here and one there, Tyson argues we never would have made it to the moon. Instead, NASA functioned as the thumping heart of a culture of innovation, an innovation ecosystem that produced results that went far beyond its singular mission statement.

We need to restore this ecosystem, Tyson argues, and the way of thinking that goes along with it, if we hope to make it anywhere in the 21st century. 


  1. 1 Make Room in the Budget for Big, Audacious Ideas
    Daniel Honan Think Tank
  2. 2 What’s Another $20 Million?
    Burt Rutan
  3. 3 Fly Me To the Moon, and Cheap!
    Peter Diamandis
  4. 4 Winning the 21st Century Space Race [PRIVATE EDGE OVERLAP]
    Elon Musk

Systems Thinking

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