What is Systems Thinking? LO6139

John Godfrey & Miranda Beale (jgodfrey@werple.net.au)
Wed, 20 Mar 1996 21:40:20 +-1000

What is Systems Thinking?

Sitting today in a lecture for my "Masters in Organisational Systems", =
(Monash University, Melbourne, Australia) and being half way through =
"Complexity" by M. Mitchell Waldrop, a definition came to me. We'd just =
been working with Ackoff's thoughts on the move from Mechanistic to =
Social Systemic Thinking. The class was puzzling over how to respond to =
the typical question of "What's that Masters degree about?" From the =
word association that followed, this came to me:

"Systems Thinking is the search for consistent dynamic patterns in =
complex adaptive systems in order to predict behaviour."

For me this captures ideas from weather patterns to the viable system =
model of Stafford Beer to the "tragedy of the commons" type archetypes =
etc. The behaviour could be in anything from biology to economics to =
business. The idea of dynamic vs static patterns is important, because =
it implies the need to consider feedback, and to move beyond linear =

The book "Complexity", which I'll read more of once I put down my =
keyboard, refers in Chapter 5 to John Holland's work to see if "... =
adaption in the mind and adaption in nature were just two different =
aspects of the same thing." .... "An adaptive agent is constantly =
playing a game with its environment. What exactly does that mean? =
Distilled to the essence, what actually has to happen for game-playing =
agents to survive and prosper? Two things, Holland decided: prediction =
and feedback." It's a wonderful and easy to read book.

Now for a question or two. A process which found such patterns and =
applied them would surely be an (active) learning process. =20

1) If an organisation could demonstrate reasonably consistent competence =
in and practice of systems thinking, then is it a "learning =
organisation"? =20

2) Is it necessary for an organisation to demonstrate systems thinking =
to be so classified?

3) Why is anyone interested in classifying the set of "learning =

For those readers near Melbourne, the two year part time Masters degree =
is offered through the Faculty of Business & Economics, and so the =
course mainly draws on that world for it's metaphors. Happily the class =
browses in many other fields as well...

I'm a bit of a magpie for ideas, so apologies if I've inadvertently =
pinched this from somewhere.

John Godfrey


John Godfrey & Miranda Beale <jgodfrey@werple.net.au>

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>