Systems Thinking: Mindset Before Toolset

Houda Boulahbel
Systems Thinking Made Simple
4 min readFeb 22, 2024

Today is a special day!

It’s my tenth wedding anniversary to a rare gem of a man.

© Houda Boulahbel

What do you think would have been a good present in this occasion? A special dinner? A watch? A trip?

Well, for this special occasion, I am releasing my online course: Systems Thinking: Mindset Before Toolset.

I know. My husband is a very lucky man.

Let me give you a bit more context.

For the last couple of years, I have pondered and obsessed about this question:

Systems thinking offers something unique, powerful, and broadly useful in so many contexts. Everywhere I look, people talk about our VUCA world (Volatile Unpredictable Complex Ambiguous). Systems thinking is made exactly to deal with that, and so why, oh why, isn’t it more widely applied?

I found some answers through my own learning journey:

  1. When you start with systems thinking, you find an avalanche of books, courses, theories, schools of thoughts, and expert associations.

If you tell anyone that you are trying to learn systems thinking, they will give you a list of a dozen more materials that you ‘absolutely must’ go through to develop a true understanding of the discipline. I found this so overwhelming that I gave up many times (and then picked myself off the floor and started again).

2. Systems thinkers like to use big words and complicated diagrams (sorry friends, I love you, but you do!).

3. There are hundreds of toolkits out there that promise to break down systems thinking into an easy process. When you scratch a bit below the surface, you find that they are rather vague and you find yourself trying to figure out how you turn this ugly diagram you created into some coherent story that you can actually use in your project.

4. People that have applied systems thinking for decades are not wedded to any single process or tool. They’ve figured out a way to think about complex problems and to communicate the essence of what they learned to others.

Somewhere along this journey, I decided to craft my own curriculum, by studying case studies of systems thinking application in governments, businesses, educational institutions, research centres, etc.

Some case studies were brilliant, I read and re-read them dozens of times.

Others were totally uninspiring. One that stuck to mind ended with something like:

“We tried systems thinking by following the process outlined in XX’s toolkit. This is what our findings look like. We are still figuring out what the implications are for our own purposes, and we still need more research to follow this up”.

I realised something.

The difference between the brilliant case studies and the not-so-brilliant ones was not in the tools or the process.

It was in the mindset.

Some case studies were trying to solve a complex, persistent problem, while others were simply following a process.

While I was figuring out all of this, I was blogging about systems thinking and many people kept asking me for my tools, my workshop plans, my process.

Then a retired fireman from Caracas, with his broken English, asked me to help him think differently…

I created a course about the systems thinking mindset. It is not a systems thinking course. It’s a primer. It’s an exercise to help people shift their perspective so that when they approach a complex situation, they approach it with the right mindset. So they ask the right questions. So they hire the right consultant.

Think of it as preparing the soil so that you can grow the most beautiful and resilient plants.

I spent the last year obsessing about what this course should include. How do you get someone to shift their perspective?

Before this, I had spent 11 years trying to do just that in healthcare. It’s not easy to do. In fact, I don’t think you can change anyone’s perspective, but you can help them notice new things and ask different questions, so that their perspective gradually changes.

I designed a short and practical course. No complex theories, no jargon. Just five short chapters that you can read in less than one hour, and quick activities that you can integrate in your everyday life to help you build new habits. And since it’s often hard to start and push yourself out of your comfort zone, I will hold your hand over five live Zoom sessions.

You would still have to do the work. You would still have to find 10–15 mins in your day, every day, to practice thinking differently. Once you get going, once you start to see the world through a systems lens, you’ll never look at the world in the same way again. You might even find yourself enjoying a big book about systems theories.

Mark Twain famously wrote: I did not have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.

Well, I took the time to think about and create a short, concise course instead of a long one. During this time, my wonderful husband had to endure me talking, hypothesising, testing, iterating, and obsessing about this project.

And so, on this special day of our anniversary I am offering him some respite from it all, a little bit of peace (for now at least…)

Here is the link to the course, for you, or anyone you know who might enjoy or benefit from it.

And if you have any questions or any doubts, never hesitate to get in touch!



Houda Boulahbel
Systems Thinking Made Simple

Systems thinking consultant and educator. Ex-cancer research scientist. Curious about the world. Check out my website: