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Systems Thinking

Page history last edited by Bob-RJ Burkhart 12 years, 3 months ago

the Way of Systems

http://minnesotafuturists.pbworks.com/f/D2025+April+09.ppt ... D2025 April 09.pdf


theWay is an effectiveness enhancement facility. theWay does not purport to provide answers. theWay provides access to fundamental principles, with supporting information, to develop understanding to support the development of strategies to address situations. Not just any strategies, but strategies which have a very high probability of working when applied. To employ theWay an understanding of Systems and Systems Thinking is essential, as well as how we formulate questions influences the answers we develop.

The overall structure or architecture of theWay is built on relationships between system archetypes. Simply begin at the center and work outward as the descriptions are appropriate to the situation you are considering.





Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization healthy or unhealthy.


Systems Thinking has been defined as an approach to problem solving, by viewing "problems" as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to specific part, outcomes or events and potentially contributing to further development of unintended consequences. Systems thinking is not one thing but a set of habits or practices [1] within a framework that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation.


Systems thinking focuses on cyclical rather than linear cause and effect.

In science systems, it is argued that the only way to fully understand why a problem or element occurs and persists is to understand the parts in relation to the whole.[2] Standing in contrast to Descartes's scientific reductionism and philosophical analysis, it proposes to view systems in a holistic manner. Consistent with systems philosophy, systems thinking concerns an understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the elements that compose the entirety of the system.


Science systems thinking attempts to illustrate that events are separated by distance and time and that small catalytic events can cause large changes in complex systems. Acknowledging that an improvement in one area of a system can adversely affect another area of the system, it promotes organizational communication at all levels in order to avoid the silo effect. Systems thinking techniques may be used to study any kind of system — natural, scientific, engineered, human, or conceptual.


The concept of a system''

Science systems thinkers consider that:

  • a system is a dynamic and complex whole, interacting as a structured functional unit;
  • energy, material and information flow among the different elements that compose the system;
  • a system is a community situated within an environment;
  • energy, material and information flow from and to the surrounding environment via semi-permeable membranes or boundaries;
  • systems are often composed of entities seeking equilibrium but can exhibit oscillating, chaotic, or exponential behavior.

What is a system?

A system is any set (group) of interdependent or temporally interacting parts. Parts are generally systems themselves and are composed of other parts, just as systems are generally parts or holons of other systems.


Systems thinking techniques may be used to study any kind of system — natural, scientific, human, or conceptual.

The Systems approach rests on two tenets:

  1. "The Whole is more than the sum of the parts" — Aristotle
  2. The development ethic.



Systems thinking often involves considering a "system" in different ways:

Rather than trying to improve the braking system on a car by looking in great detail at the composition of the brake pads (reductionist), the boundary of the braking system may be extended to include not only the components of the car, but the driver, the road and the weather, and considering the interactions between them.
Looking at something as a series of conceptual systems according to multiple viewpoints. A supermarket could be considered as a "profit making system" from the perspective of management, an "employment system" from the perspective of the staff, and a "shopping system" — or perhaps an "entertainment system" — from the perspective of the customers. As a result of such thinking, new insights may be gained into how the supermarket works, why it has problems, or how changes made to one such system may impact on the others.



The application of Systems thinking has been grouped into three categories based on the techniques used to tackle a system:

  • Hard systems — involving simulations, often using computers and the techniques of operations research. Useful for problems that can justifiably be quantified. However it cannot easily take into account unquantifiable variables (opinions, culture, politics, etc), and may treat people as being passive, rather than having complex motivations.
  • Soft systems — For systems that cannot easily be quantified, especially those involving people holding multiple and conflicting frames of reference. Useful for understanding motivations, viewpoints, and interactions and addressing qualitative as well as quantitative dimensions of problem situations. Soft systems are a field that utilizes foundation methodological work developed by Peter Checkland, Brian Wilson and their colleagues at Lancaster University. Morphological analysis is a complementary method for structuring and analysing non-quantifiable problem complexes.
  • Evolutionary systemsBela H. Banathy developed a methodology applicable to the design of complex social systems. This technique integrates critical systems inquiry with soft systems methodologies. Evolutionary systems, similar to dynamic systems are understood as open, complex systems, but with the capacity to evolve over time. Banathy uniquely integrated the multidisciplinary perspectives of systems research (including chaos, complexity, cybernetics), cultural anthropology, evolutionary theory, and others.



Systems thinking is increasingly being used to tackle a wide variety of subjects in fields such as computing, engineering, epidemiology, information science, health, manufacture, management, and the environment.

For example:




See also



  • Russell L. Ackoff (1999) Ackoff's Best NY: Wiley
  • Bela H. Banathy (1996) Designing Social Systems in a Changing World NY: Plenum
  • Bela H. Banathy (2000) The Guided Evolution of Society NY: Plenum/Kluwer Academic
  • Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1968) General System theory: Foundations, Development, Applications, George Braziller New York
  • Peter Checkland (1981) Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. (Wiley)
  • Peter Checkland, Jim Scholes (1990) Soft Systems Methodology in Action. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-92768-6
  • Peter Checkland, Jim Sue Holwell (1998) Information, Systems and Information Systems. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-95820-4
  • C. West Churchman (1968) The Systems Approach, Delacorte Press, New York.
  • John Gall (1978) Systemantics Pocket Books
  • Charles L. Hutchins (1996) Systemic Thinking: Solving Complex Problems CO:PDS ISBN 1-888017-51-1
  • Bradford Keeney(1983) Aesthetics of Change Guilford Press
  • Joseph O'Connor, Ian McDermott (1997) The Art of Systems Thinking: Revolutionary Techniques to Transform Your Business and Your Life HarperCollins.
  • Tom Ritchey (2002) General Morphological Analysis: A General Method for Non-Quantified Modelling
  • Peter M. Senge (1990) The Fifth Discipline - The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization (Currency Doubleday).
  • Lars Skyttner (2006) General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspective, Practice (World Scientific Publishing Company) ISBN 9-812-56467-5
  • Gerald M. Weinberg (1975) An Introduction to General Systems Thinking (1975 ed., Wiley-Interscience) (2001 ed. Dorset House).
  • Brian Wilson (Systems) (1984) Systems: Concepts, Methodologies and Applications. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-92716-3
  • Brian Wilson (Systems) (2001) Soft Systems Methodology: Conceptual Model Building and its Contribution. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-89489-3


External links



Comments (4)

Bob-RJ Burkhart said

at 2:14 pm on Dec 28, 2009

Please preview related FutureThought thinkLets: http://futurethought.pbworks.com/decision-traps

Bob-RJ Burkhart said

at 2:24 pm on Aug 11, 2010

Also see Dr. Alan Jaisle memetics: http://minnesotafuturist.pbworks.com/Thinking-Habits

Bob-RJ Burkhart said

at 4:17 am on Aug 13, 2010

Bob-RJ Burkhart said

at 4:30 am on Oct 11, 2010

Systems thinking @ http://bit.ly/cuo9Yp
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