Draw circles up in the air with the index finger and observe the way the direction of the circles changes, as we change the vantage point.
To explore how our particular perspective in a system colors our view of that system
To explore the possibility that our viewpoint depends on where we sit
To make the idea of shift of perspective visible
Ask everyone to point the index finger to the ceiling, with the arm straight up in the air. Tell them to start drawing an imaginary circle on the ceiling in a clockwise direction.
Ask them to continue to draw the circle clock-wise, but bring the hand down slowly, with the finger still pointing up. Demonstrate the activity while explaining it, and keep the instructions coming, as the hands get lower, until the finger is under the shoulder level, so everybody has to look down on it instead of up.
As people continue to make circles with the index finger, ask them to observe what direction the circle is going: clockwise or anti-clockwise. Give people a few seconds to observe the results, take stock of the situation, and then ask them to stop.
Debrief starting with: What happened?
Get multiple answers to this question, from simple observations (I kept moving the hand the same way, but I saw it differently, clockwise when looking up at it and anti-clockwise when looking down) to reports of emotions and perceptions accompanying these observations, to personal theories, to jokes. Keep the space for observation longer than strictly necessary. Then start probing:
- what was your initial reaction?
- what was the first thought into your mind and the first word out of your mouth?
- what language you used to describe when I asked "what happened"?
- did you resist the observation? why?
- what insight did you get out of this exercise? how did it change you?
- what does it tell you about the perspectives we have on different things?
- what did it bring to mind?
- how did it make you feel?
You can make the debrief as long or as short as necessary, depending on the exercise's main objective.
I first saw it used by Thiagi at the 2019 AIN conference. Then I found it described in the 1995 book The Systems Thinking Playbook: Exercises to Stretch and Build Learning and Systems Thinking Capabilities by Linda Booth Sweeney Ed.D. (Author), Dennis Meadows (Author), which is the actual source of the details used here.