You are on page 1of 6

Systems thinking

Systems thinking
Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things, regarded as systems, 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[2] within a framework that is based on the belief that the [1] Impression of systems thinking about society 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.[3] 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

The several ways to think of and define a system include:. A system is composed of parts. All the parts of a system must be related (directly or indirectly), else there are really two or more distinct systems A system is encapsulated, has a boundary. The boundary of a system is a decision made by an observer, or a group of observers. A system can be nested inside another system. A system can overlap with another system. A system is bounded in time. A system is bounded in space, though the parts are not necessarily co-located. A system receives input from, and sends output into, the wider environment.

A system consists of processes that transform inputs into outputs. Science systems thinkers consider that:

Systems thinking 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. A holistic 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. Science systems and the application of science 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/management science. 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 systems Bla H. Bnthy developed a methodology that is 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. Bnthy uniquely integrated the interdisciplinary perspectives of systems research (including chaos, complexity, cybernetics), cultural anthropology, evolutionary theory, and others.

The systems approach

The systems thinking approach incorporates several tenets:[4] 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)

A treatise on systems thinking ought to address many issues including: Encapsulation of a system in space and/or in time Active and passive systems (or structures) Transformation by an activity system of inputs into outputs Persistent and transient systems

Systems thinking Evolution, the effects of time passing, the life histories of systems and their parts. Design and designers. Some examples: Rather than trying to improve the braking system on a car by looking in great detail at the material composition of the brake pads (reductionist), the boundary of the braking system may be extended to include the interactions between the: brake disks or drums brake pedal sensors hydraulics driver reaction time tires road conditions weather conditions time of day

Using the tenet of "Multifinality", a supermarket could be considered to be: a "profit making system" from the perspective of management and owners a "distribution system" from the perspective of the suppliers an "employment system" from the perspective of employees a "materials supply system" from the perspective of customers an "entertainment system" from the perspective of loiterers a "social system" from the perspective of local residents a "dating system" from the perspective of single customers

As a result of such thinking, new insights may be gained into how the supermarket works, why it has problems, how it can be improved or how changes made to one component of the system may impact the other components.

Science 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, sustainable development and the environment. Professor Rajagopal, EGADE Business School building on the work of Ferdinand Tnnies has suggested the application of systems thinking in developing marketing strategy from the perspectives of corporate business restructuring in the post economic recession situations[5]. Some examples: Urban planning Science of Team Science Organizational architecture Job design Team Population and Work Unit Design Linear and Complex Process Design Supply Chain Design System Design Business continuity planning with FMEA protocol Critical Infrastructure Protection via FBI Infragard Delphi method developed by RAND for USAF

Futures studies Thought leadership mentoring The public sector including examples at The Systems Thinking Review [6]

Systems thinking Leadership development Oceanography forecasting complex systems behavior Permaculture Quality function deployment (QFD) Quality management Hoshin planning [7] methods Quality storyboard StoryTech framework (LeapfrogU-EE) Software quality Program management Project management MECE The Vanguard Method Sociocracy Linear thinking Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

Russell L. Ackoff (1999) Ackoff's Best: His Classic Writings on Management. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-31634-2 Russell L. Ackoff (2010) Systems Thinking for Curious Managers [8]. (Triarchy Press). ISBN 978-0-9562631-5-5 Bla H. Bnthy (1996) Designing Social Systems in a Changing World (Contemporary Systems Thinking). (Springer) ISBN 0-306-45251-0 Bla H. Bnthy (2000) Guided Evolution of Society: A Systems View (Contemporary Systems Thinking). (Springer) ISBN 0-306-46382-2 Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1976 - revised) General System theory: Foundations, Development, Applications. (George Braziller) ISBN 0-8076-0453-4 Fritjof Capra (1997) The Web of Life (HarperCollins) ISBN 0-00-654751-6 Peter Checkland (1981) Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-27911-0 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 Peter Checkland, John Poulter (2006) Learning for Action. (Wiley) ISBN 0-470-02554-9 C. West Churchman (1984 - revised) The Systems Approach. (Delacorte Press) ISBN 0-440-38407-9. John Gall (2003) The Systems Bible: The Beginner's Guide to Systems Large and Small. (General Systemantics Pr/Liberty) ISBN 0-9618251-7-0 Jamshid Gharajedaghi (2005) Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity - A Platform for Designing Business Architecture. (Butterworth-Heinemann) ISBN 0-7506-7973-5 Charles Franois (ed) (1997), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics, Mnchen: K. G. Saur. Charles L. Hutchins (1996) Systemic Thinking: Solving Complex Problems CO:PDS ISBN 1-888017-51-1 Bradford Keeney (2002 - revised) Aesthetics of Change. (Guilford Press) ISBN 1-57230-830-3 Donella Meadows (2008) Thinking in Systems - A primer (Earthscan) ISBN 978-1-84407-726-7 John Seddon (2008) Systems Thinking in the Public Sector [9]. (Triarchy Press). ISBN 978-0-9550081-8-4 Peter M. Senge (1990) The Fifth Discipline - The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. (Currency Doubleday) ISBN 0-385-26095-4 Lars Skyttner (2006) General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspective, Practice (World Scientific Publishing Company) ISBN 981-256-467-5 Graeme Snooks (2008) 'A general theory of complex living systems: Exploring the demand side of dynamics'. Complexity, 13(6), July/August: 12-20.

Systems thinking Frederic Vester (2007) The Art of interconnected Thinking. Ideas and Tools for tackling with Complexity (MCB) ISBN 3-939314-05-6 Gerald M. Weinberg (2001 - revised) An Introduction to General Systems Thinking. (Dorset House) ISBN 0-932633-49-8 Brian Wilson (1990) Systems: Concepts, Methodologies and Applications, 2nd ed. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-92716-3 Brian Wilson (2001) Soft Systems Methodology: Conceptual Model Building and its Contribution. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-89489-3 Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1969) General System Theory. (George Braziller) ISBN 0-8076-0453-4 Dietrich Dorner (1996) The Logic of Failure. Trans. Rita Kimber and Robert Kimber. (Metropolitan Books) ISBN 978-0-201-47948-5 Barry Richmond (2001) Introduction to Systems Thinking: STELLA. (High Performance Systems) ISBN 978-0-9704921-1-1

[1] Illustration is made by Marcel Douwe Dekker (2007) based on an own standard and Pierre Malotaux (1985), "Constructieleer van de mensenlijke samenwerking", in BB5 Collegedictaat TU Delft, pp. 120-147. [2] http:/ / www. watersfoundation. org/ index. cfm?fuseaction=materials. main [3] Capra, F. (1996) The web of life: a new scientific understanding of living systems (1st Anchor Books ed). New York: Anchor Books. p. 30 [4] Skyttner, Lars (2006). General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspective, Practice. World Scientific Publishing Company. ISBN981-256-467-5. [5] http:/ / www. igi-global. com/ book/ systems-thinking-process-dynamics-marketing/ 60774 [6] http:/ / www. thesystemsthinkingreview. co. uk/ [7] http:/ / www. qualitydigest. com/ may97/ html/ hoshin. html [8] http:/ / triarchypress. com/ pages/ Systems_Thinking_for_Curious_Managers. htm [9] http:/ / www. triarchypress. co. uk/ pages/ book5. htm

External links
The Systems Thinker newsletter glossary ( The Schumacher Institute of Sustainable Systems ( Dancing With Systems ( from Project Worldview ( systems thinking links displayed as a network Systems Thinking Laboratory ( Systems Thinking ( Buckminster Fuller Institute ( MIT's System Design and Management Program ( The Adansys Approach ( (

Article Sources and Contributors

Article Sources and Contributors

Systems thinking Source: Contributors: Ahoerstemeier, Akella, Ambitus, Andres, AndrewCarey, Anikasavage, Apesofgod, Aranda, Architectchao, Begeun, Benking, Bishonen, Bkell, Bookandcoffee, Brunoton, Btphelps, CALR, CX, Canadianshoper, Cassbeth, Cel25, Chesil88, Ckatz, Cogitoergovigeo, Cp111, Dancter, De728631, DragonHawk, DragonLord, Drunken Pirate, EagleFan, Earthdenizen, Edcolins, Edo198, Edward, Erkan Yilmaz, ErkkiLaitila, Evanreyes, Everyking, Fakk, Fenice, Fixaller, Frap, Fuzzform, George100, Globaleducator, Gmyersnj, Gobonobo, Gogo Dodo, Gondwanabanana, Graham Berrisford, Harshmellow, Hu12, Ian Gilman, Igni, Ihcoyc, Immunize, Ireneshusband, J.delanoy, J04n, JIP, Jackvinson, Jeff3000, Jmeppley, Jnestorius, Joarsolo, Johnsonand, Jose Icaza, Jpbowen, Jschlesinger, Julianker, Kevin Kidd, Kilmer-san, Kingturtle, Kku, Kostmo, LaughingMan, Lbeaumont, Len Raymond, Letranova, Lexor, LightAnkh, Lova Falk, M.v.alexander, MarcoLittel, Mariaflags, Marktompsett, Maurreen, Max786, Mbadri, Mdd, Merbst, Metaknight19, MethodicEvolution, Mindmatrix, Mkoval, Mnent, Mufka, Muhandes, Mydogategodshat, NLPepa, Nad, Nentrex, Nick8325, NickRichmond, NoFisch, Nosmo, Paulreali, Phanerozoic, PiaH, Qswitch426, R'n'B, RJBurkhart3, Redsx414, Rherold123, Rich Farmbrough, Ritafelgate, Robin klein, Robina Fox, Ronz, Rtsdteamscience, Ryandwayne, SE SME, Sabiusaugustus, Sanacontusdedos, Seouenaca, Shadowjams, Skittleys, Smalltalkman, Spalding, Ssdd980, Stefanson, Steve Erlank, Stevietheman, Summers, Tassedethe, Taxisfolder, Tbackstr, The Rambling Man, TheProphetess, TheTito, Themfromspace, Theredteamrocks, Thseamon, Tito Otero, Tomecito,, Ty580, Underpants, Vincehk, Viriditas, Vsmith, Wavelength, Werfur, Westlafayette, Will Beback, Yamaguchi , Zad68, 210 anonymous edits

Image Sources, Licenses and Contributors

Image:Systems thinking about the society.svg Source: License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Contributors: Marcel Douwe Dekker (Mdd)

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported //