Systems Thinking White Belt Certification: Your First Step to a New Way of Thinking

Brian J. Cicio
3 min readMay 10, 2019

Less than four months ago, I began a course at Fort Hays State University where Dr. Jamie Schwandt introduced myself and my classmates to a concept called Systems Thinking. We were informed that we would be challenged by not learning what to think, but how to think. I confess that at first I was petrified, as Systems Thinking was foreign to me, and that I had already been conditioned throughout life how to think. Thankfully, Dr. Schwandt’s course materials and Facebook group introduced me to Dr. Derek Cabrera, who developed Systems Thinking 2.0 and Plectica, a tool for mapping out thought processes. While hesitant, I slowly learned how to think in this new manner. After a few weeks of using Plectica, I was given the opportunity to obtain my Systems Thinking White Belt and I jumped at the chance, as I knew it would enhance my learning.

The Path to Enlightenment

The Systems thinking White Belt certification consists of three courses. It begins with System Mapping Basics, which contains eight units, including basic navigation and keyboard shortcuts. The next course is Systems Thinking Made Simple 101, containing twenty-nine units and focuses on The Root of Wicked Problems, Understanding DSRP (Distinctions, Systems, Relationships and Perspectives), and a Case Study. Finally, the third course is Systems Mapping 101, sixteen units covering topics like The Splat Map, Thinkquiry Your Map, and The Ultimate Skills Challenge. Yes, you are tested on the materials that you have been learning. This makes your certification mean something. All lessons are structured so this each exercise builds upon what you have learned previously, which assists in reinforcing each concept. The estimated completion time is four to six hours, although there is no actual time limit.

A sample Plectica map, demonstrating DSRP.

Putting it Together

I have been using Plectica and Systems Thinking for less than four months, yet this highly collaborative tool is no longer the scary monster in my closet which I originally thought it was. Maps can be made as simple or as complex as you like, and by gaining the skills from the White Belt certification, your ideas will flow in an easy to comprehend manner. Looking back at some of the maps I created before earning my certification, I cannot believe how difficult I found the process of creating them then. While I will not profess to be an expert in Systems Thinking, I am exponentially more comfortable than I was at the beginning of the semester. The more you engage in Systems Thinking and using Plectica, the easier it becomes.

You Now Have Your White Belt. What’s Next?

Plectica currently offers three additional certifications beyond the Systems Thinking White Belt. They offer a Systems Mapper Yellow Belt, a Systems Leader Green Belt, and a Systems Trainer Blue Belt. While both the Yellow and Green Belts are also online courses, the Blue Belt is three days of in-person training. Each of these allow you to expand your knowledge base and should prove to be invaluable in both the classroom and the workplace.

Final Thoughts

While it initial took some getting used to, I find that Plectica is a great tool for expressing your ideas. The ability to use it in a collaborative environment is a huge plus, where you can interact with others in real time. I learned a great deal through the White Belt certification, and plan on earning my Yellow Belt in the near future; who knows I may even go up to Green Belt. The Blue Belt seems, at present time, outside of my career goals. Regardless of where your certification journey takes you, I believe that Systems Thinking and Plectica are the best way of solving complex problems in the present and future.