About Our Research

    3 Labs in 1 with 4 Research Focus Areas

    Born at Cornell University, CRL drives basic research, innovation, and public understanding in Systems Thinking, Systems Mapping, Systems Leadership, and Systems Science. Our Mission-Vision is to Push, Facilitate, and Motivate 7 Billion Systems Thinkers. We look for projects that bridge our scientific research with real-world, practical, everyday experience. We work with excellent teams of excellent people. We don't just think the theories, we build real stuff that makes lives better and increases human potential and organizational effectiveness.


    A Basic Research Lab

    As a traditional, basic research lab, we focus on advancing the theory and practice of systems thinking (a.k.a., cognitive complexity). Our research has led to the discovery of two basic theories (DSRP and VMCL) that have gained wide acceptance, many peer-reviewed publications, and several powerful models.

    Innovation & Invention Lab

    We innovate and invent practical tools and technologies, media and materials, for systems thinkers. Our research has led to numerous tools including: two patents; the DSRP visual language; ThinkBlocks; 4 software programs (MetaMap now Plectica, Subtask.co, and Team.video); media campaigns; and many more.

    Public Understanding  Media Lab

    We increase public understanding of science. Through our books, tools, and blogs, we make the science of systems accessible without fidelity loss. Science without public understanding is unsustainable. Our numerous projects include: public campaigns like ThinkWater; curricula at the Santa Fe Institute, an educational documentary, a rap song, annual conferences, and speaking and training.


    4 Research Focus Areas

    Systems Mapping (Visual Complexity)
    More neurons connect your brain to your eyes and hands than the rest of your body combined. Researching and developing tactile and visual innovations that help us to better understand complexity and solve complex problems is therefore critical to being effective. We do theoretical, basic, translational, and applied research into Systems Mapping of all kinds.

    Systems Leadership (Organizational Complexity)
    Organizations today are typically thought of as nouns rather than verbs and as static and mechanical rather than dynamical and organic. Our research into Systems Leadership asks basic questions about how leaders can survive and thrive and design and build organizations that can operate as adapting, agile, learning systems. This research focuses on: systems thinking in organizations; managing and leading agile teams; culture change; organizational alignment; organizational design; human development and talent management.

    Systems Thinking (Cognitive Complexity)
    Our Lab has has been at the forefront in innovation in the field of Systems Thinking, breaking new ground and answering long-unanswered and fundamental questions such as: What is Systems Thinking? Why does it work? How to do it effectively? How to measure it? Is there a scientific and empirical basis for it? To this end, we do theoretical and basic research in: cognitive complexity, metacognition, and structural and embodied cognition.

    Systems Science (Ontological Complexity)
    Originally trained as systems scientists, we ask fundamental questions about how reality is structured and do theoretical and translational research in the systems sciences (complexity, networks, CAS, evolution, nonlinear dynamics, chaos, etc) as well as leading interdisciplinary scholarship to bring the traditional disciplines (physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, economics, etc) together.




    Our Founding Faculty



    Derek Cabrera

    Derek Cabrera, PhD

    An internationally known author and systems scientist and serves on the faculty of Cornell University and the Board of Advisors DSE at the US Military Academy at West Point...

    Laura Cabrera

    Laura Cabrera, PhD

    An expert in research methods and systems thinking, Laura serves on the faculty of Cornell University where she teaches systems thinking, mapping, and leadership... 



    Our Mission-Vision



    "Push, Facilitate, and Motivate 7 Billion Systems Thinkers"*


    * We ‘eat our own dog food.’ In our book Flock Not Clock, we describe the four functions of an adaptive organization (Vision, Mission, Capacity, Learning or VMCL). We use these four functions to lead and manage our research lab. We also help others to develop VMCLs for their own organizations. Like what you see? Let us help you develop your own VMCL.


    Our Vision (V)


    Our Vision is something we see as possible in the future. We work on our Mission everyday to bring about this Vision. We're committed to our audacious vision to create 7 Billion Systems Thinkers. Thinking is foundational to future success in every domain: creativity & problem solving; new scientific discoveries, products & services; individual & organizational learning; education & business success; communications, and; even democracy itself. Research developed at Cornell University (into how we think and how to avoid errors/bias) reveals insights that can be taught to anyone, at any age. Research also reveals that there are hundreds of crises in the world today, and all of these crises stem from a single 'root' crisis: the crisis of cognition. In other words, a crisis in how we think. We need to think differently. Solving the root crisis means that Systems Thinking becomes the new norm and 7 Billion Systems Thinkers becomes possible. "Leaders stand in the future and describe what they see. 7Billion+ Systems Thinkers...it's what we SEE. #CountMeIn

    Our Mission (M)


    We do our Mission everyday to bring about our Vision. Our Mission logos (three learning curves above) symbolizes the everyday work we do to "Push. Facilitate. Motivate." one Systems Thinker at a time. We Push the scientific and research frontiers, constantly striving to discover new knowledge at the cutting-edge of basic and applied research in our field. We then ensure fidelity of this scientific knowledge as we help to build public understanding, capacity, and impact by Facilitating and Motivating. Facilitate better thinking means that, "when the learning curve is steep, we flatten it." In a word, we make learning high-fidelity, empirically-based systems thinking easier. Motivate better thinking means that, "when we can’t flatten it, we motivate people to climb it." Sometimes, we can't make it easier, but we can show people why it is worth the effort and get them over the steepest sections of the learning curve.

    We do our Mission through a combination of basic and applied scientific research, innovation and invention, and public understanding of science. Einstein said three things of importance about thinking. First, told us that, "the whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking." Thinking is something we do everyday. It underlies everything. It is the root of both everyday and wicked, personal, professional and social problems.  We need more scientific thinking in our everyday lives. Second, Einstein famously said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." Yet, more often than not, we cannot articulate how we are thinking about things. To explicate thinking—to make it more scientific— has been our life’s work. In a nutshell, this means thinking becomes definable, discussable, teachable, learnable, doable, and measurable. Third, Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. If you can't explain it simply, then you don't understand it well enough." We are committed to "making Systems Thinking simple" (not simpler) for 7 Billion+ people because systems thinking is a CAS that has simple underlying rules (DSRP). Push, Facilitate, Motivate...it's what we DO.

    Capacity (C) and Learning (L)

    Capacity (C) & Learning (L)

    Capacity (C)

    We develop Mission-critical capacity by working everyday to ensure that we have the right energy in the right place to serve our Mission everyday. We've developed a system of systems that are hyperfocused on Mission and Mission Moments.

    Learning (L)

    We are an agile, adaptive, learning organization. We build and evolve mental models. We know that thinking differently, is the crux of all individual and organizational learning and of insight, innovation, and invention.


    Our Culture Code

    Our Culture Code is a uniquely balanced blend of opposites that, along with VMCL, act as the simple rules that provide for the kind of emergent properties we want in an organization: Self-organizing, trusting, spontaneous, effective, responsible. 

    Culture Code (3)