A linear thinker, a design thinker and a systems thinker walk into a bar…

Houda Boulahbel
Systems Thinking Made Simple
4 min readAug 19, 2022

They talk about the house of the future.

The linear thinker draws a floor plan. He details the bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, lounge, etc. He makes sure that each room has adequate light, heating, the correct number of plugs, etc.

Linear thinking breaks the world into smaller parts and focuses on each one separately ©Houda Boulahbel.

The design thinker takes a look at the floor plan and lists out what the tenants of the future will want (He has already interviewed and observed them in their daily life). He notes the way they live, and their desire to be as environmentally friendly as possible.

Design thinking starts from the needs of the user, how they behave, what their needs are, and builds the optimal solution. ©Houda Boulahbel

He then designs a house that runs on solar energy, with materials that optimise energy use. He also designs some pretty clever spaces to fit with the family’s way of life.

The systems thinker points out that the house of the future will be part of a smart city where outdoor living prevails and people only go home to sleep. He also points out that the materials used by the designer do not last for ever; they are very costly and difficult to recycle once they reach end of life. They also include nanomaterials whose impact on human health has not been tested. So they could actually cause more harm than good in the long run. He also sketches out how the energy would flow among the different buildings and spaces in the city, and highlights the best spots for the energy hubs.

Systems thinking takes a more holistic view with focus on interactions and relationships between things.© Houda Boulahbel.

Which vision would you invest in?

My view is that you would need to balance out all three.

If you only bet on the linear thinker, you might get bogged down in the minute details of a house, and miss the big picture.

If you only rely on the design thinker, you might end up creating beautiful, elegant solutions to the wrong problem, or create solutions that perpetuate the problem in the long-term.

Houda Boulahbel
Systems Thinking Made Simple

Systems thinking consultant. Ex-cancer research scientist. Curious about the world. Love science and design.