It is with deep sadness to share with you that Ian passed away on Friday 5th March 2021.  Ian prepared this blog to stimulate us about the parts we can all play in both the health and social care system, and as a society on the whole in being – healthier, happier, more resilient and more sustainable.    Ian relished the opportunity to be a world leader at moment.  Like us, we hope this blog inspires you too.

His organisation, Paths for All, have opened an online book of condolence for expressions of sympathy and to share memories of Ian.


Guest Blog: Ian Findlay – Systems Thinking

There’s been a lot of talk recently about systems thinking. I’d like to explore this approach from my experience of health and environment policies and systems. And I’d like to pose this question to you,

“What can we learn and do, as leaders, to support more sustainable systems based on delivering positive outcomes?”

I’ll start with our health system.  I’m going to generalise and possibly exaggerate here to make a point; and what I say, I do so with the greatest of respect to everyone working in our amazing health care system.

Our current system is predominantly an illness-fixing service and tends to intervene only when we are already ill. It’s a system that is responding to negative outcomes and is increasingly unsustainable. Instead, there is a need to move towards a system that focuses much more on preventing the negative outcomes in the first place. A wellbeing-promoting system that keeps everyone as well as possible for as long as possible; one that is based on preventative spend.

This type of transformational system change will deliver more in terms of positive outcomes.  It will create healthier, happier and more resilient people and a more sustainable and resilient health system. If you are reading this, perhaps you are a leader thinking about how to embed such an approach into your context, and I invite you to join our conversation (or catch up with it afterwards) with Project Lift on this topic on 25th Feb 2021.

I’ve come to the same conclusions when I look at our planet and the rest of the living world. Our relationship with it and our ‘systems approach’ towards its use and exploitation are also increasingly unhealthy and also unsustainable. Climate change, biodiversity loss and air pollution are all symptoms of an unhealthy planet and negative outcomes. Worryingly, our approach to dealing with these negative outcomes is similar to what I’ve described above for our health system; that is to focus on treating the symptoms rather than tackling root causes.

I’d argue that if we look at many other systems, we’ll find the same general pattern.  Systems that are based on short-term fixing of negative outcomes in an increasingly unsustainable and unhealthy manner, rather than long-term planning for positive outcomes which deal with root causes. Inequalities and poverty are good examples.

I want to be solution focused here. Are there root causes?  Are they interlinked? Is there one ‘super’ system driving ill health, climate change, biodiversity loss, poverty, inequalities? I think there is. It’s our economic system. It’s a system that is based on endless growth and exploitation of natural and human resources regardless of the consequences, it’s based on short-termism and does not think sufficiently about our legacy for future generations, it disconnects us with each other and the rest of the living world, it fuels inequalities and it’s based on values such as greed, self-interest, and lack of responsibility and accountability.

So therein lies my solution. We must fundamentally change our economic system.  We must embrace and embed concepts such as wellbeing economics, doughnut economics, the circular economy, natural capital and nature-based solutions. A move to systems that are based on values of kindness and respect to each other, our planet and other living creatures; that are based on responsibility and accountability; and make us think about how we can be good ancestors.

It will also mean moving away from short-termism and creating longer-term plans and budgets, budgets that allow us to discount short-term, modest costs against long-term much more substantial savings.

It will mean moving away from systems with a constant and draining focus of dealing with negative outcomes to systems focused on positive outcomes that proactively promote our and the planet’s long-term health and wellbeing.

However, I don’t under-estimate how difficult such system change will be. Our current economic system is so embedded in every aspect of modern human societies. It’s also an uncomfortable truth that those who are reading this blog, like me, are most responsible for creating and sustaining the systems and negative impacts I’ve described and potentially we are the ones that need to change the most.

The good news, and the challenge, are we are also leaders and so it is in our gift to bring about such transformational change.

I would love to be a world leader at the moment! Perhaps more so than at any time in human existence, our current leaders have the opportunity, and responsibility, to bring about transformational systems change to literally save the planet and create happier and healthier human societies. What a fantastic legacy that would be to leave!



We’d like to thank Ian for this guest blog – he is one of our Guest Contributors to our Community Event – Moving Forward  on the 25th February 2021.