What is Systems Thinking?
Per Wikipedia, Systems Thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. 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.
The systems thinking approach incorporates several tenets:
- Interdependence of objects and their attributes – independent elements can never constitute a system
- Holism – emergent properties not possible to detect by analysis should be possible to define by a holistic approach
- Goal seeking – systemic interaction must result in some goal or final state
- Inputs and Outputs – in a closed system inputs are determined once and constant; in an open system additional inputs are admitted from the environment
- Transformation of inputs into outputs – this is the process by which the goals are obtained
- Entropy – the amount of disorder or randomness present in any system
- Regulation – a method of feedback is necessary for the system to operate predictably
- Hierarchy – complex wholes are made up of smaller subsystems
- Differentiation – specialized units perform specialized functions
- Equifinality – alternative ways of attaining the same objectives (convergence)
- Multifinality – attaining alternative objectives from the same inputs (divergence)
- Systems Thinking is a complex subject and there are some people who claim it is very different (if not the opposite) of “analysis”. I don’t agree with that opinion. But there a number of discussion boards out there (such as on LinkedIn) where you can get a broad exposure to Systems Thinking. Take advantage of them and the links below in the Resources section.
- An Open University OpenLearn module (open courseware) called Systems Thinking and Practice.
- Article on Modern Analyst by Paula Bell called Systems Thinking: Understanding the Whole and Not Just the Parts.
- Article on BPTrends by Peter Fingar called Systems Thinking: The “Core” Core Competency for BPM (loads PDF article directly)