What is Systems Thinking? LO6163

Fri, 22 Mar 1996 02:00:23 -0500

Replying to LO6151 --

When I sought for a definition of systems thinking, I was surprised to
draw a blank in the writings of Deming (who talked about appreciation for
a system rather than systems thinking), Ackoff (who gives the principles
of a system but does not define systems thinking) and Senge (who describes
the phenomenon of systems thinking). I would not be the least surprised
to learn that these gentlemen had defined systems thinking, but I couldn't
find such a definition. Nor does Webster's define it. So, forced to
think for myself, I put together a definition of both a system and systems
thinking for the companion booklet to my video. I hope folks trying to
explain their passion for (or understand others passion towards) systems
thinking will find these definitions useful.

System, noun. 1. the prevailing structure or organization of society,
business, or politics or of society in general; the establishment. 2. a
set of interdependent elements or people joining together to accomplish an
aim. 3. the organizational realities created through the interaction of
available technology and the knowledge, curiosity, aspirations and
theories of the people in that organization.

Systems thinking. 1. a sensitivity to patterns, wholes, process, flow,
environments and interactions. 2. the perception of, or attempt to
articulate and model, the system dynamics that define and constrain
systems. 3. pondering the mysterious connections between events and
issues. 4. a rigorous, yet holistic way of describing the world. 5. a
change in thinking.

Just as democracies have allowed the coexistance of liberals and
conservatives, so does systems thinking. Under the umbrella of systems
thinking exist people who believe that all system interactions and
phenomenon can be quantified in computer simulations or control charts,
and others who believe that nothing needs to be measured or planned for
because, through some miracle, an emergent consciousness will simply lift
us up to some higher plane. And of course, systems thinking includes us
moderates who understand how to keep a balance between those extremes,
drawing from both camps for understanding.

What is systems thinking? I would claim that systems thinking is to our
new economic age what the Renaissance was to the commercial revolution and
Reformation, or what the Enlightenment was to the Industrial and
Democratic Revolutions. Systems thinking is the intellectual revolution
that will both cause and be caused by the Quality Revolution and the
transformation of our corporations. It is key to the transformation from
a focus upon quantity (of goods) to quality (of life). It is key to the
creation of corporations able to create both economic goods (to have) and
economic goods (to do).

Ron Davison (RonDavison@aol.com)
Video producer of "A Change in Thinking: Systems Thinking, Learning, &
Intellectual Capital."  And author of the manuscript _The Fourth Economy:
Letters from the Future_.
9272 Hector Avenue    San Diego, CA  92123    (619) 279-3917

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