September 24, 2019

Sometimes a well-respected company finds itself completely out of order without an understanding how that came about. These are things that cannot be easily explained. Matters where our common approach of cause-and-effect thinking falls short and is of little help in offering us a full grasp of things. These matters need a different approach in terms of explaining how they came about. Interestingly enough, this different way of thinking (System dynamics) has been around for quite a while now. It is available to us, we just need to apply it where we have not done it before.

For instance, how is it possible that a renowned financial institution with a widely respected reputation has been identified to have acted as a ‘criminal organization’, facilitating money-laundering? This is what happened recently to the household name of ING, the biggest bank of the Netherlands, one of the bigger banks in Europe and being the preferred bank for the Dutch government. Following a thorough investigation by Netherlands Public Prosecution Office (NPPO), a settlement with ING was agreed and a fine of € 775m imposed. ING is certainly not unique; we have seen similar situations with other banks as well (Danske Bank a.o.).

How could this have occurred? It was surely not a desired outcome by management. Nor, as the NPPO established, can it be explained by a mistake or fault of any single individual. More is it at play. Many factors might lay at the roots of such incidents. Factors that all tie in to each other, weaving a sort of spider’s web, that leaves us guessing where it all started. We believe that in general there is more than what meets the eye… (the so-called: iceberg effect). Nobel prizewinner Daniel Kahneman (Thinking fast and slow) taught us that for a better understanding it is important to get a feel of what lies hidden underneath…

Hidden opportunities

When it comes to cases of security and integrity it obviously helps to tighten the net, exercise more control and to ensure that there are enough qualified people working on the case. Offering additional training to further raise the level of awareness and increase competence. But more is needed, a detailed overview of all aspects and all parties involved. And how they interact with each other. How each reaction creates new dynamics with both desired outcomes but also with unplanned by-effects. A systems approach.


To create a better understanding of complex problems and turbulent environments we have worked at BROADVIEW to come forward with an approach that allows for a deep level analysis. But one that is also easy to work with and not very time consuming. BROADVIEW | explore! is a method and a system-application based upon the works of Systems Thinking (Peter Senge et al.) System Dynamics (Jay W. Forrester, John Sterman, MIT, USA). It allows for a different way of looking at things also called ‘divergent (non-linear) thinking’.

This way of thinking which goes back decades ago is being applied worldwide in trying to solve complex problems . From government policies, infrastructure projects, energy grids, environmental problems, healthcare, the field of education but also in the private sector. Companies increasingly face a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment (VUCA) which makes it difficult to understand where they should be going.

With this unique and widely demonstrated way of thinking it is relatively easy to show which aspects and their underlying relations are responsible for the creation, the development and disappearance of a specific problem. It becomes crystal clear to all involved how the impact of a problem increases, decreases or gets stabilized over time.

 An example

Recently we could have a look into the compliance case of ING.  A quick analysis of the publicly available information was put into our framework that looks a bit like a mind map. It shows all the factors that played a role and how they are intertwined, creating a spiderweb.

An holistic approach that takes into account all factors at play and also how they all interact with each other, creates a deep level of understanding what really is at hand. The model we use allows to play with each factor to determine where to get the biggest leverage. And to predict what the possible side-effects will be, so that measures of containment can be identified. All this requires is just having the right people in the room and to follow a somewhat structured dialogue to create a ‘mind map’, ready to play with! Check it out at

Jos Metselaar & Rein Heddema