On systems thinking

Systems thinking has its foundation in the field of system dynamics, founded in 1956 by MIT professor Jay Forrester. Professor Forrester recognized the need for a better way of testing new ideas about social systems, in the same way, we can test ideas in engineering.

Systems thinking allows people to make their understanding of social systems explicit and improve them in the same way that people can use engineering principles to make explicit and improve their understanding of mechanical systems.

We can extend the initial use of systems thinking from social systems and apply it to IT systems.

The Systems Thinking Approach

●    The traditional analysis focuses on separating the individual pieces of what is being studied; Systems thinking, in contrast, focuses on how the thing being studied interacts with the other constituents of the system—a set of elements that interact to produce behaviour—of which it is a part.

●    Instead of isolating smaller and smaller parts of the system being studied, systems thinking works by expanding its view to take into account larger and larger numbers of interactions as an issue is being studied.

●    Sometimes strikingly different conclusions arise than those generated by traditional forms of analysis, especially when what is being studied is dynamically complex or have a great deal of feedback from other sources, internal or external.

 The character of systems thinking makes it extremely effective on the most difficult types of problems to solve:

●    Complex systems that involve helping many actors see the “big picture” and not just their part of it;

●    Those that have a great dependence on the past or on the actions of others;

●    Issues where an action affects the environment surrounding the issue, either the natural environment or the competitive environment;

The Take-Away

By using system thinking we can understand better the deep roots of complex behaviours for being able to better predict and adjust their outcomes. Since everything around us composes not only a system but a system of systems, it is becoming more and more important to understand complex systems with the use of systems thinking. 

Is your organization facing the difficult types of problems listed above? Maybe it’s time for applying a new approach.

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