Systems Thinking

When you start to grasp the enormity of whole systems understanding, you might start wondering how you can do anything to inform your own thinking about what needs to be done, and ways of taking action. One of the first challenges is to become a systems thinker, rather than a linear thinker.  Start making the connections and joining the dots!  Watch this introduction:

There is plenty of information about systems thinking, but the best site I know which can get you started is one developed for schools in the USA.  It is a full course, developed for teachers, but you can work through it quite easily to see the different elements of systems thinking in action. If American schoolchildren can do it, so can we!

Here is a more technical definition of Systems Thinking:

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 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. 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 — naturalscientificengineeredhuman, or conceptual.

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