A system is any group of things or people that interact or are interrelated or interdependent and thus form a much more complex whole. Systems thinking is the process of understanding how various factors impact one another within a system including smaller systems within ever larger systems. Put another way, systems thinking is the ability to discern relationships, impacts, and interactions that are not obvious.
Systems thinking requires a shift in mindset, away
– from linear to circular,
– from a “stand-alone” collection of parts to interconnected components, and
– from “point in time” to processes unfolding over time i.e., trends.
The fundamental principle of systems thinking is that everything is interrelated and that one cannot impact one part of a system without causing ripples; the most infamous is the “law of unintended consequences”. Dealing with the most difficult and intransigent problems we face in an ever more tightly interwoven world requires that we develop the analytic skills and capability to identify and understand systems and predict their behaviors. All too often, the fastest way out of a complex situation is the quickest way back in (ever tried painting over rust?) and often makes the underlying problem worse.
“For every complex question there is an answer that is simple, clear, and wrong.” – H. L. Mencken (1880-1956)
“Addiction is finding a quick and dirty solution to the symptom of the problem, which prevents or distracts one from the harder and longer-term task of solving the real problem.” – Donella H. Meadows, 1941-2001
“Yet we act as if simple cause and effect is at work. We push to find the one simple reason things have gone wrong. We look for the one action, or the one person, that created this mess. As soon as we find someone to blame, we act as if we’ve solved the problem.” – Margaret J. Wheatley, b. 1944
As always, I share what I most want and need to learn. – Nathan S. Collier