#005 Thinking & Living in Systems

With pioneering systems thinker, the late Professor Frank Fisher


The late Professor Frank Fisher was a pioneering systems thinker and Australia’s Inaugural Environmental Educator of the Year. A couple of months ago, Anthony received a copy of an interview with Frank that was originally broadcast on SBS Radio here in Australia back in 1999. Perhaps some of you heard it at the time. For those who didn't (which included Anthony, who was to meet Frank the following year), this was a great surprise – one we are keen to share in turn.

Professor Frank Fisher. Pic: supplied.

Professor Frank Fisher. Pic: supplied.

...and most environmental problems are like that. They are called ‘wicked’ problems because anything that you do to try to mechanically attack them produces a whole range of new problems. You can’t get around them easily that way. We have to look at other ways of doing things. And the primary way of dealing with these problems is to take the cause away.
— Professor Frank Fisher

Captured in this short interview is a sense of what made Frank such a highly respected figure. There’s a sense of grounded humanity and possibility in how he talks, and how he lived. The title of his anthology, ‘Response Ability’, conveys this message succinctly - that the changes we need are within our reach. Regenerating systems and stories isn’t the domain of remote experts. It is the subject of everyday life, and ultimately who we want to become.

This is especially so given the ‘wicked’ nature of our major crises. “They’re called wicked problems”, Frank explains, “because anything that you do to try to mechanically ‘attack’ them produces a whole range of new problems”. Given these inevitable side-effects, “We have to look at other ways of doing things. And the primary way of dealing with these problems is to take the cause away [through social change].”

Frank was no technophobe, mind you. An electrical engineer who’d spent a decade in industry working in major energy projects, he went on to initiate what was Australia’s largest wind farm when completed, just a few years after this interview. But it’s the social context of this technology that counts most. And the way Frank describes how we can think differently, and more holistically, about the world and how we live in it, is thoroughly illuminating.

Svetimir Ristic, a graduate of the Masters program Frank led for a generation at Monash University, was the original producer of this interview for his Serbian radio program nearly 20 years ago. The quality of the recording and some of the particulars of what Frank talks about may have dated a little, but the general content and approach is as relevant as ever.

Production by Ben Moore & Anthony James. Original recording by Svetimir Ristic for SBS Serbian Radio in 1999.

Get more:

Baraka, the film Frank used to screen for his postgraduate students, from which the music at the end of this podcast is chosen.



Wipala, from the Baraka soundtrack, composed by Michael Sterns.

Let Them Know, by the Public Opinion Afro Orchestra.

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