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Seeing Systems

Best Seller
Seeing Systems by Barry Oshry
Paperback $34.95
Aug 12, 2007 | ISBN 9781576754559

Also available from:

  • Aug 12, 2007 | ISBN 9781576754559

    Also available from:

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“Seeing Systems offers not just a framework for understanding leadership issues, but practical solutions one can actually implement in an organization.”
—Scott Powers, Chief Executive Officer, Old Mutual U.S.

“It is all about relationships. Oshry recognizes this and the importance of organizational dynamics in his works. His insights offer great advice regardless of where you ‘sit’ in the organization. In fact, you may find that you ‘sit’ in a different place than you thought.”
—Al Grasso, President and Chief Executive Officer, Mitre Corporation

“I have read with enormous interest Seeing Systems and must say that through many years of being involved in entities dedicated to systemic under- standing, this has been the most exciting reading.”
—Dr. Enrique G. Herrscher, Honorary Professor, Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA), former President, International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS)

“Precious few business books reveal know-how that fundamentally changes the way we operate and experience our world of work. Seeing Systems helps us grasp what really happens beneath the surface in organizations. Regardless of whether you are an executive, executive coach, middle manager or individual contributor, Seeing Systems provides powerful insights and applications for enhancing your effectiveness.”
—Julian D. Kaufmann, Vice President, Leadership & Organization Development, Tyco International

“Seeing Systems is a much needed antidote to the personal bias that dominates much of our thinking about organizations.”
—Timothy J. Giarrusso, Professor, E. Philip Saunders College of Business, Rochester Institute of Technology

“I have been a fan of Oshry’s Seeing Systems for a number of years and use it extensively to engage staff in recognizing the bigger picture in their everyday activities.”
—David Morhart, Deputy Minister of Public Safety and Deputy Solicitor General, Province of British Columbia

“Oshry’s work has the power to transform our lives by removing the blinders we usually wear. I regularly used his books and workshops as powerful tools for our senior leaders’ development. With great regularity, people reported that they felt liberated and energized once they could see the dances he describes in their personal or professional lives.”
—Sabina Nawaz, former Senior Director of Leadership Development, Microsoft, and Principal, Nawaz Consulting LLC

“You never know how students will react to a book, so I wasn’t prepared for the electric impact Seeing Systems had on the class. They loved it and were clearly affected by its insights and style.”
—Barton Kunstler, PhD, Director, Graduate Program in Organizational and Corporate Communications, Emerson College

“We, like fish, are unaware of the medium in which we swim. Oshry takes us to a higher level, allowing us to see the systemic ocean that engulfs us. From this viewpoint, we can change the very nature of how we swim. The perspective about systems, power, and relationships hits the reader clearly and with impact. This book can make a difference in our organizations, and in our lives.”
—Thomas Crum, author of The Magic of Conflict, Journey to the Center, and Three Deep Breaths

“Seeing Systems is exactly what happened for me the first time I read Oshry’s work. This was the first organizational model that made sense of what I was experiencing as a manager. Not a simple laundry list of ideas or ‘paradigms’ but practical theories based on how people behave in the workplace. I applied Oshry’s principles daily as a manager of a county jail in Washington, and I continue to apply them, in my retirement, managing large volunteer organizations.”
—Lucia Meijer, former Administrator, King County North Rehabilitation Facility

“Oshry’s framing of systems and the interaction between functions and levels is dead on. Seeing Systems is a close friend for everyone on our team.”
—Rob Kramer, Director, Training and Development, University of North Carolina

“Oshry weaves a remarkable explanation for the subtle, and largely unseen, ways in which our structures influence our behavior. Part poetry, part philosophy, part practical advice, this book offers a creative lens for examining our own behavior.”
—Marvin Weisbord, Co-Director, Future Search Network; coauthor of Future Search; and author of Productive Workplaces Revisited

“Anyone who is in the business of leading others or managing change will profit from the lenses Seeing Systems offers. They help us understand and avoid the all too common traps of disempowerment and failed partnerships. Instead of blaming others, ourselves, or the system, we learn how these organizational dynamics predictably shape our perceptions in ways that are self-defeating, and we see how we can rise above them and create relationships and organizations where collaboration can flourish.”
—Dr. Gervase R. Bushe, Segal Graduate School of Business, Simon Fraser University, author of Clear Leadership and coauthor of Parallel Learning Structures

“Oshry is a genius in designing simulations of complex social systems and in constructing frameworks that generate rare insights into the simplicity that lies beyond the complexity of such systems. For systems that have a large group of employees that consider themselves to be disempowered—whether factory line workers, government bureaucrats, or orchestra musicians—Seeing Systems offers the most powerful tools I know.”
—Grady McGonagil, EdD, Director of Learning, Generon Consulting

“Oshry explains in clear, convincing, and poetic language why people behave as they do in organizational life. His insights shine a bright light into the dark cave of organizational systems…and show us a way out.”
—Jeffrey and Merianne Liteman, coauthors of Retreats that Work

“Seeing Systems helped me better understand my many roles; it also yielded valuable insights into the worlds of those in other positions, enabling me to adjust my behavior in ways that make me a more effective leader and follower. The book has made a lasting impression.”
—Jeffrey B. Cooper, PhD, Director, Biomedical Engineering, Partners HealthCare System, Inc.

Table Of Contents

Preface to the Second Edition
Prologue: Overcoming System Blindness

Act I: Seeing the Big Picture
Scene 1. When We Don’t See Systems
1 Pinball
2 The Manager of the Heart
3 The Mystery of the Swim
4 Seeing the Local Picture
5 "Stuff" Happens
Scene 2. Transforming Spatial Blindness into Spatial Sight
6 Seeing Context
7 The "Truth" About Jack
8 Charlotte Is a Problem
9 Center Ring or Side Show ?
10 Times Out of Time: Seeing the Whole
11 The TOOT Dilemma
Scene 3. Transforming Temporal Blindness into Temporal Sight
12 The Invisible Histories of the Swims We Are In
13 History’s Burst of Illumination
14 Bart and Barb: A System Evolves…Perfectly
15 "Anthropology" or Mick Gets Wiped Out
16 Applied Anthropology: Unraveling System History

Act II: Seeing Patterns of Relationship
Scene 1. Relational Blindness
17 What About All the Drama?
18 The Dance of Blind Reflex
Scene 2. Transforming Relational Blindness into Relational Sight
19 Three Patterns of Relationship
20 One Wakes, the Other Sleeps
21 The Top/Bottom Dance of Blind Reflex
22 It Takes Two to Tango . . . or Does It?
23 Let's Declare Bankruptcy: Transforming the Top/Bottom Dance
24 The Universal Civics Course
25 The End/Middle/End Dance of Blind Reflex
26 Daniel: Mutant in the Middle Space
27 Organizations in the Middle
28 The Provider/Customer Dance of Blind Reflex
29 Overcontrol or Transformation: The Mutant Customer
30 The Unfairly Judged Professor
31 Abused and Misused in the Space of Service
32 The Web of Relationships
33 How to Clean Sidewalks: It’s a Matter of Being
34 Resistance or The Sound of the Old Dance Shaking
35 How We Can See the Dance

Act III: Seeing Patterns of Process
Scene 1. Process Blindness
36 Are You Sure You Have It All?
37 Turf Warfare, Alienation, and GroupThink: The DBR Continued
38 Relationship Breakdowns in a Nutshell
Scene 2. Transforming Process Blindness into Process Sight
39 Territorial Tops: Stuck on Differentiation
40 The Success of a Business, the Failure of Its Partners
41 Learning from Experience: A Good Second Marriage
42 Help! No Recovering Top Groups Sighted
43 Advice for the Top Team
44 Alienated Middles: Stuck on Individuation
45 Alienation Among the Middles
46 Can Alienated Middles Become a Powerful System?
47 Mutant Middle Groups
48 How to Create Powerful Middle Teams
49 Bottom GroupThink: Stuck on Integration
50 Immigrant Martha Has a Breakdown
51 Where Is Everyone? A Mutant Bottom Group
52 Power Is Managing Differentiation
53 Creating Powerful Bottom Groups
Scene 3: The Politics of System Processes
54 Huddlers and Humanists…Enough With Consensus!
55 Amebocytes and Slugs: The Politics of Individuation and Integration
56 The Politics of Gender
57 Or Would You Rather Be an Earthworm? Societal Implications of Differentiation and Homogenization
58 Differentiation, Inquiry, Warfare
59 An Ode to Homogenization
Scene 4: The Challenge of Robust Systems
60 The Dominants and the Others
61 Robust System Processes
62 The Dance of the Robust System: Ballet Notes
63 A Remarkable, If Somewhat Premature, Epiphany

Act IV: Seeing Uncertainty
64 The Emergence of Organizational Positions
Scene 1. Individuals in Uncertainty
65 Individuals Facing and Escaping from Organizational Uncertainty
66 A Mutant Moment in the Middle
67 Dancing In and Out of the Tunnel of Limited Options
68 His Magic Consultant Card #2
Scene 2. Groups in Uncertainty
69 Groups Facing and Escaping from Uncertainty
70 How to Transform Oppositional Struggles into Multi-Faceted Flexible Teams
Scene 3. Existential Uncertainty
71 Not all Possibilities Are Possible
72 Coping with Uncertainty: Mythos and Logos
The Next Act—Seeing More
Epilogue: A Continuing Revolution
About the Author

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