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
Unintended Consequences
Unintended Consequences is a novel by John Ross, first published in 1996 by Accurate Press. The story chronicles the history of the gun culture, gun rights and gun control in the United States from the early 1900s through the late 1990s...

. 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
System is a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole....

 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
Philosophical analysis
Philosophical analysis is a general term for techniques typically used by philosophers in the analytic tradition that involve "breaking down" philosophical issues. Arguably the most prominent of these techniques is the analysis of concepts...

, it proposes to view systems in a holistic
Holism is the idea that all the properties of a given system cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone...

 manner. Consistent with systems philosophy
Systems Philosophy
Systems philosophy is the study of the development of systems, with an emphasis on design and root cause analysis. Systems philosophy is a form of systems thinking....

, 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 system
Complex system
A complex system is a system composed of interconnected parts that as a whole exhibit one or more properties not obvious from the properties of the individual parts....

s. Acknowledging that an improvement in one area of a system can adversely affect another area of the system, it promotes organizational communication
Organizational communication
Organizational communication is a subfield of the larger discipline of communication studies. Organizational communication, as a field, is the consideration, analysis, and criticism of the role of communication in organizational contexts....

 at all levels in order to avoid the silo effect
Information silo
An information silo is a management system incapable of reciprocal operation with other, related management systems. A bank's management system, for example, is considered a silo if it cannot exchange information with other related systems within its own organization, or with the management systems...

. Systems thinking techniques may be used to study any kind of system — natural
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general...

, scientific
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

, engineered
Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize improvements to the lives of...

, human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

, or concept
The word concept is used in ordinary language as well as in almost all academic disciplines. Particularly in philosophy, psychology and cognitive sciences the term is much used and much discussed. WordNet defines concept: "conception, construct ". However, the meaning of the term concept is much...


The concept of a system

Science systems thinkers consider that:
  • a system
    System is a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole....

     is a dynamic and complex whole, interacting as a structured functional unit;
  • energy
    In physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...

    , material
    Material is anything made of matter, constituted of one or more substances. Wood, cement, hydrogen, air and water are all examples of materials. Sometimes the term "material" is used more narrowly to refer to substances or components with certain physical properties that are used as inputs to...

     and information
    Information in its most restricted technical sense is a message or collection of messages that consists of an ordered sequence of symbols, or it is the meaning that can be interpreted from such a message or collection of messages. Information can be recorded or transmitted. It can be recorded as...

     flow among the different elements that compose the system;
  • a system is a community situated within an environment;
  • energy, material and information flow from and to the surrounding environment via semi-permeable membranes or boundaries;
  • systems are often composed of entities seeking equilibrium but can exhibit oscillating, chaotic
    Chaos theory
    Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, with applications in several disciplines including physics, economics, biology, and philosophy. Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, an effect which is popularly referred to as the...

    , or exponential
    Exponential function
    In mathematics, the exponential function is the function ex, where e is the number such that the function ex is its own derivative. The exponential function is used to model a relationship in which a constant change in the independent variable gives the same proportional change In mathematics,...


A holistic system is any set (group) of interdependent or temporally
Time is a part of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change such as the motions of objects....

 interacting parts. Parts are generally systems themselves and are composed of other parts, just as systems are generally parts or holons of other systems.

Science systems and the application of science systems thinking has been grouped into three categories based on the techniques used to tackle a system:
  • Hard systems
    Hard systems
    In systems science Hard systems is a title sometimes used to differentiate between different types of systems problems. It is opposing soft systems.- Overview :...

     — involving simulation
    Simulation is the imitation of some real thing available, state of affairs, or process. The act of simulating something generally entails representing certain key characteristics or behaviours of a selected physical or abstract system....

    s, often using computer
    A computer is a programmable machine designed to sequentially and automatically carry out a sequence of arithmetic or logical operations. The particular sequence of operations can be changed readily, allowing the computer to solve more than one kind of problem...

    s and the techniques of operations research
    Operations research
    Operations research is an interdisciplinary mathematical science that focuses on the effective use of technology by organizations...

    /management science. Useful for problems that can justifiably be quantified. However it cannot easily take into account unquantifiable variables (opinions, culture, politics, etc.), and may treat people as being passive, rather than having complex motivations.
  • Soft systems — For systems that cannot easily be quantified, especially those involving people holding multiple and conflicting frames of reference. Useful for understanding motivations, viewpoints, and interactions and addressing qualitative as well as quantitative dimensions of problem situations. Soft systems are a field that utilizes foundation methodological work developed by Peter Checkland
    Peter Checkland
    Peter Checkland is a British management scientist and emeritus professor of Systems at Lancaster University. He is the developer of soft systems methodology : a methodology based on a way of systems thinking.- Biography :...

    , Brian Wilson and their colleagues at Lancaster University
    Lancaster University
    Lancaster University, officially The University of Lancaster, is a leading research-intensive British university in Lancaster, Lancashire, England. The university was established by Royal Charter in 1964 and initially based in St Leonard's Gate until moving to a purpose-built 300 acre campus at...

    . Morphological analysis is a complementary method for structuring and analysing non-quantifiable problem complexes.
  • Evolutionary systems — Béla H. Bánáthy
    Béla H. Bánáthy
    Béla Heinrich Bánáthy was a Hungarian linguist, systems scientist and a professor at San Jose State University and UC Berkeley. Bánáthy was the founder of the White Stag Leadership Development Program whose leadership model was adopted across the United States...

     developed a methodology that is applicable to the design of complex social systems. This technique integrates critical systems inquiry with soft systems methodologies. Evolutionary systems, similar to dynamic systems
    Dynamical system
    A dynamical system is a concept in mathematics where a fixed rule describes the time dependence of a point in a geometrical space. Examples include the mathematical models that describe the swinging of a clock pendulum, the flow of water in a pipe, and the number of fish each springtime in a...

     are understood as open, complex systems, but with the capacity to evolve over time. Bánáthy uniquely integrated the interdisciplinary
    Interdisciplinarity involves the combining of two or more academic fields into one single discipline. An interdisciplinary field crosses traditional boundaries between academic disciplines or schools of thought, as new needs and professions have emerged....

     perspectives of systems research (including chaos
    Chaos theory
    Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, with applications in several disciplines including physics, economics, biology, and philosophy. Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, an effect which is popularly referred to as the...

    , complexity
    In general usage, complexity tends to be used to characterize something with many parts in intricate arrangement. The study of these complex linkages is the main goal of complex systems theory. In science there are at this time a number of approaches to characterizing complexity, many of which are...

    , cybernetics
    Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems. Cybernetics is closely related to information theory, control theory and systems theory, at least in its first-order form...

    ), cultural anthropology
    Cultural anthropology
    Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans, collecting data about the impact of global economic and political processes on local cultural realities. Anthropologists use a variety of methods, including participant observation,...

    , evolutionary theory
    Modern evolutionary synthesis
    The modern evolutionary synthesis is a union of ideas from several biological specialties which provides a widely accepted account of evolution...

    , and others.

The systems approach

The systems thinking approach incorporates several tenets:
  • Interdependence
    Interdependence is a relation between its members such that each is mutually dependent on the others. This concept differs from a simple dependence relation, which implies that one member of the relationship can function or survive apart from the other....

     of objects and their attributes - independent elements can never constitute a system
  • Holism
    Holism is the idea that all the properties of a given system cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone...

     - emergent properties
    In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems....

     not possible to detect by analysis
    Philosophical analysis
    Philosophical analysis is a general term for techniques typically used by philosophers in the analytic tradition that involve "breaking down" philosophical issues. Arguably the most prominent of these techniques is the analysis of concepts...

     should be possible to define by a holistic approach
  • Goal seeking
    Global optimization
    Global optimization is a branch of applied mathematics and numerical analysis that deals with the optimization of a function or a set of functions to some criteria.- General :The most common form is the minimization of one real-valued function...

     - systemic interaction must result in some goal or final state
  • Inputs
    In computing, input/output, or I/O, refers to the communication between an information processing system , and the outside world, possibly a human, or another information processing system. Inputs are the signals or data received by the system, and outputs are the signals or data sent from it...

     and Outputs - in a closed system
    Closed system
    -In physics:In thermodynamics, a closed system can exchange energy , but not matter, with its surroundings.In contrast, an isolated system cannot exchange any of heat, work, or matter with the surroundings, while an open system can exchange all of heat, work and matter.For a simple system, with...

     inputs are determined once and constant; in an open system additional inputs are admitted from the environment
  • Transformation of inputs into outputs - this is the process by which the goals are obtained
  • Entropy
    Entropy is a thermodynamic property that can be used to determine the energy available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines. Such devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when...

     - the amount of disorder or randomness present in any system
  • Regulation
    Regulator (automatic control)
    In automatic control, a regulator is a device which has the function of maintaining a designated characteristic. It performs the activity of managing or maintaining a range of values in a machine. The measurable property of a device is managed closely by specified conditions or an advance set...

     - a method of feedback
    Feedback describes the situation when output from an event or phenomenon in the past will influence an occurrence or occurrences of the same Feedback describes the situation when output from (or information about the result of) an event or phenomenon in the past will influence an occurrence or...

     is necessary for the system to operate predictably
  • Hierarchy
    A hierarchy is an arrangement of items in which the items are represented as being "above," "below," or "at the same level as" one another...

     - complex wholes are made up of smaller subsystems
  • Differentiation
    Differentiation (sociology)
    Differentiation is a term in system theory From the viewpoint of this theory, the principal feature of modern society is the increased process of system differentiation as a way of dealing with the complexity of its environment. This is accomplished through the creation of subsystems in an effort...

     - specialized units perform specialized functions
  • Equifinality
    Equifinality is the principle that in open systems a given end state can be reached by many potential means. The term is due to Ludwig von Bertalanffy, the founder of General Systems Theory. He prefers this term, in contrast to "goal", in describing complex systems' similar or convergent behavior...

     - alternative ways of attaining the same objectives (convergence)
  • Multifinality - attaining alternative objectives from the same inputs (divergence)

Some examples:
  • Rather than trying to improve the braking system on a car by looking in great detail at the material composition of the brake pads (reductionist), the boundary of the braking system may be extended to include the interactions between the:
  • brake disks or drums
  • brake pedal sensors
  • hydraulics
  • driver reaction time
  • tires
  • road conditions
  • weather conditions
  • time of day

  • Using the tenet of "Multifinality", a supermarket could be considered to be:
  • a "profit making system" from the perspective of management and owners
  • a "distribution system" from the perspective of the suppliers
  • an "employment system" from the perspective of employees
  • a "materials supply system" from the perspective of customers
  • an "entertainment system" from the perspective of loiterers
  • a "social system" from the perspective of local residents
  • a "dating system" from the perspective of single customers

As a result of such thinking, new insights may be gained into how the supermarket works, why it has problems, how it can be improved or how changes made to one component of the system may impact the other components.


Science systems thinking is increasingly being used to tackle a wide variety of subjects in fields such as computing
Computing is usually defined as the activity of using and improving computer hardware and software. It is the computer-specific part of information technology...

, engineering
Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize improvements to the lives of...

, epidemiology
Epidemiology is the study of health-event, health-characteristic, or health-determinant patterns in a population. It is the cornerstone method of public health research, and helps inform policy decisions and evidence-based medicine by identifying risk factors for disease and targets for preventive...

, information science
Information science
-Introduction:Information science is an interdisciplinary science primarily concerned with the analysis, collection, classification, manipulation, storage, retrieval and dissemination of information...

, health
Health is the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living being. In humans, it is the general condition of a person's mind, body and spirit, usually meaning to be free from illness, injury or pain...

, manufacture, management
Management in all business and organizational activities is the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively...

, and the environment
Natural environment
The natural environment encompasses all living and non-living things occurring naturally on Earth or some region thereof. It is an environment that encompasses the interaction of all living species....


Some examples:
  • Science of Team Science
    Science of Team Science
    The science of team science field encompasses both conceptual and methodological strategies aimed at understanding and enhancing the processes and outcomes of collaborative, team-based research. It is useful to distinguish between team science initiatives and the science of team science field...

  • Organizational architecture
    Organizational architecture
    Organizational architecture has two very different meanings. In one sense it literally refers to the organization in its built environment and in another sense it refers to architecture metaphorically, as a structure which fleshes out the organizations....

  • Job design
  • Team Population and Work Unit Design
  • Linear and Complex Process Design
  • Supply Chain Design
  • Business continuity planning
    Business continuity planning
    Business continuity planning “identifies [an] organization's exposure to internal and external threats and synthesizes hard and soft assets to provide effective prevention and recovery for the organization, whilst maintaining competitive advantage and value system integrity”. It is also called...

     with FMEA
    Failure mode and effects analysis
    A failure modes and effects analysis is a procedure in product development and operations management for analysis of potential failure modes within a system for classification by the severity and likelihood of the failures...

  • Critical Infrastructure Protection
    Critical Infrastructure Protection
    Critical infrastructure protection is a concept that relates to the preparedness and response to serious incidents that involve the critical infrastructure of a region or nation....

     via FBI Infragard
    InfraGard is a private non-profit organization serving as a public-private partnership between U.S. businesses and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The organization describes itself as an information sharing and analysis effort serving the interests and combining the knowledge base of a wide...

  • Delphi method
    Delphi method
    The Delphi method is a structured communication technique, originally developed as a systematic, interactive forecasting method which relies on a panel of experts.In the standard version, the experts answer questionnaires in two or more rounds...

     — developed by RAND
    RAND Corporation is a nonprofit global policy think tank first formed to offer research and analysis to the United States armed forces by Douglas Aircraft Company. It is currently financed by the U.S. government and private endowment, corporations including the healthcare industry, universities...

     for USAF
  • Futures studies — Thought leader
    Thought leader
    Thought leader is business jargon for an entity that is recognized for having innovative ideas.The term was coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the Booz Allen Hamilton magazine, Strategy & Business. "Thought leader" was used to designate interview subjects for that magazine who had...

    ship mentoring
    Mentorship refers to a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person....

  • The public sector
    Public sector
    The public sector, sometimes referred to as the state sector, is a part of the state that deals with either the production, delivery and allocation of goods and services by and for the government or its citizens, whether national, regional or local/municipal.Examples of public sector activity range...

     including examples at The Systems Thinking Review
  • Leadership development
    Leadership development
    Leadership development refers to any activity that enhances the quality of leadership within an individual or organization. These activities have ranged from MBA style programs offered at university business schools to action learning, high-ropes courses and executive retreats.- Developing...

  • Oceanography
    Oceanography , also called oceanology or marine science, is the branch of Earth science that studies the ocean...

     — forecasting complex systems behavior
  • Permaculture
    Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that is modeled on the relationships found in nature. It is based on the ecology of how things interrelate rather than on the strictly biological concerns that form the foundation of modern agriculture...

  • Quality function deployment
    Quality function deployment
    Quality function deployment is a “method to transform user demands into design quality, to deploy the functions forming quality, and to deploy methods for achieving the design quality into subsystems and component parts, and ultimately to specific elements of the manufacturing process.”, as...

  • Quality management
    Quality management
    The term Quality management has a specific meaning within many business sectors. This specific definition, which does not aim to assure 'good quality' by the more general definition , can be considered to have four main components: quality planning, quality control, quality assurance and quality...

     — Hoshin planning methods
  • Quality storyboard
    Quality storyboard
    A Quality storyboard is a visual method for displaying a Quality Control story . Some enterprises have developed a storyboard format for telling the QC story, for example at Yokogawa-Hewlett-Packard in Japan, the story is told using a flip chart which is 6 feet by 6 feet...

     — StoryTech
    Arthur Harkins
    Arthur M. Harkins, Ph.D. , is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Administration and faculty director of the Graduate Certificate in Innovation Studies program at the University of Minnesota who co-authored StoryTech with George Kubik.-See also:* Anticipatory...

     framework (LeapfrogU-EE)
  • Software quality
    Software quality
    In the context of software engineering, software quality refers to two related but distinct notions that exist wherever quality is defined in a business context:...

  • Program management
    Program management
    Program management or programme management is the process of managing several related projects, often with the intention of improving an organization's performance...

  • Project management
    Project management
    Project management is the discipline of planning, organizing, securing, and managing resources to achieve specific goals. A project is a temporary endeavor with a defined beginning and end , undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives, typically to bring about beneficial change or added value...

  • MECE
    Mecé is a commune in the Ille-et-Vilaine department in Bretagne in north-western France.-Demographics:Inhabitants of Mecé are called Mecéens.-References:* ;* -External links:*...

     - McKinsey Way
  • The Vanguard Method
    The Vanguard Method
    The Vanguard Method is a method used by service organisations to change from a command and control to a systems approach to the design and management of work. The method was invented by the occupational psychologist Professor John Seddon who began his career researching the reasons for failures of...

  • Sociocracy
    Sociocracy is a system of governance, using consent-based decision making among equivalent individuals and an organizational structure based on cybernetic principles...

  • Linear Thinking

See also

  • Boundary critique
    Boundary critique
    Boundary critique is the concept in critical systems thinking, according to Ulrich that states that "both the meaning and the validity of professional propositions always depend on boundary judgments as to what 'facts' and 'norms' are to be considered relevant" or not.Boundary critique is a...

  • Crossdisciplinarity
    Crossdisciplinarity describes any method, project and research activity that examines a subject outside the scope of its own discipline without cooperation or integration from other relevant disciplines...

  • Holistic management
    Holistic management
    A term that describes systems thinking approach to managing resources that builds biodiversity, improves production, generates financial strength, enhances sustainability, and improves the quality of life for those who use it...

  • Information Flow Diagram
    Information flow diagram
    An information flow diagram is an illustration of information flow throughout an organisation. An IFD shows the relationship between external and internal information flows between an organisation. It also shows the relationship between the internal departments and sub-systems.An Information Flow...

  • Interdisciplinary
  • Multidisciplinary
  • Negative feedback
    Negative feedback
    Negative feedback occurs when the output of a system acts to oppose changes to the input of the system, with the result that the changes are attenuated. If the overall feedback of the system is negative, then the system will tend to be stable.- Overview :...

  • Soft systems methodology
  • Synergetics (Fuller)
    Synergetics (Fuller)
    Synergetics is the empirical study of systems in transformation, with an emphasis on total system behavior unpredicted by the behavior of any isolated components, including humanity’s role as both participant and observer....

  • System dynamics
    System dynamics
    System dynamics is an approach to understanding the behaviour of complex systems over time. It deals with internal feedback loops and time delays that affect the behaviour of the entire system. What makes using system dynamics different from other approaches to studying complex systems is the use...

  • Systematics - study of multi-term systems
    Systematics - study of multi-term systems
    Systematics is a study of systems and their application to the problem of understanding ourselves and the world, developed by John G. Bennett in the mid-twentieth century. The purpose of systematics is the understanding of organized complexity...

  • Systemics
    In the context of systems science and systems philosophy, the term systemics refers to an initiative to study systems from a holistic point of view...

  • Systems engineering
    Systems engineering
    Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary field of engineering that focuses on how complex engineering projects should be designed and managed over the life cycle of the project. Issues such as logistics, the coordination of different teams, and automatic control of machinery become more...

  • Systems intelligence
    Systems intelligence
    Systems intelligence is human action that connects sensitivity about a systemic environment with systems thinking, thus spurring a person's problem solving capabilities and invoking performance and productivity in everyday situations. Systems intelligence, abbreviated SI, is intelligent behavior in...

  • Systems philosophy
    Systems Philosophy
    Systems philosophy is the study of the development of systems, with an emphasis on design and root cause analysis. Systems philosophy is a form of systems thinking....

  • Systems theory
    Systems theory
    Systems theory is the transdisciplinary study of systems in general, with the goal of elucidating principles that can be applied to all types of systems at all nesting levels in all fields of research...

  • Systems science
    Systems science
    Systems science is an interdisciplinary field of science that studies the nature of complex systems in nature, society, and science. It aims to develop interdisciplinary foundations, which are applicable in a variety of areas, such as engineering, biology, medicine and social sciences.Systems...

  • Systemography
    Systemography or SGR is a process where phenomena regarded as complex are purposefully represented as a constructed model of a general system. It maybe used in three different roles: conceptualization, analysis, and simulation...

  • Transdisciplinary
  • Terms used in systems theory

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.