Today, I’d like to give some insight in the terms system dynamics and systems thinking that I’ve come across in some posts, that claim to be a mind-blowing one fits-all solution that make you experience that you’ve done all wrong before.
Let’s start with Wikipedia:
Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things, regarded as systems, influence one another within a whole […] 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.
Here’s a definition from Barry Richmond, who coined the term in 1987:
Systems Thinking is the art and science of making reliable inferences about behavior by developing an increasingly deep understanding of underlying structure.
Systems thinking uses computer simulation and a variety of diagrams and graphs to model, illustrate, and predict system behavior.
You’ll find authors describing systems thinking very emphatically, e.g.
- Systems thinking – management by doing the right thing
- Systems Thinking in Management: Definition, Theory & Model
- Using Systems Thinking to improve organisations
- Fifty years of systems thinking for management
- Join the Revolution: Systems Thinking to transform Thailand’s health system
I’ve positive experience with systems thinking tools applied in problem solving, although I would not call it mind-blowing or revolutionary, but it’s handy:
To apply systems thinking you start with identifying the parts of the system that you think are relevant to your problem and identify their relationships and put it into some causal loop diagram.
Here’s an example taken from www.thwink.org:
Without systems thinking you just see only a man turning on the faucet and off later (=event oriented).
With systems thinking you create a white box model that shows what’s going on behind the scene (=system oriented).
Core elements of the language of a systems thinker are causal chains that lead to balancing and reinforcement loops (=negative and positive feedback loops)