Tag Archives: Systems Thinking

Introduction to systems thinking & social theory and practice – post #1

In the following  series of posts, I will introduce, review, discuss, explain, and examine the wicked topic of systems, by integrating several disciplines of knowledge (such as physics and sociology).

I will talk about actual consequences and implementations related to the social element in our life. By “social” I refer to the knowledge, perception, and practice about the human society. The materials I use are taken from academic books, lectures, YouTube videos, peer reviewed journals and so on.

 

Systems Thinking

 

The basic of systems thinking is that there is interrelationships between everything to everything. In simple words, what goes around comes around. This is not random this expression is using the round shape. It is circular. Think for a moment about earth, rounding around itself, rounding around the sun, other stars rounding around on the same system, the milky way within the galaxy, the galaxy within universe, and so forth. Step back, and see the same pattern for humanity. A child was born, circled by family, circled by broader family, circled by neighborhood, city, country, human beings, etc. now, add more components (let’s call them “agents”) to the system. Wild life, weather, forests, energy. Another frequent example is to imagine cloudy sky. We automatically know it’s going to rain, and then the sky will be blue again.

Russel Ackoff (2000) explains what is a system: “A system is whole which cannot be divided to parts, the system is dependent on how the parts interact, not how parts act alone. An example: life, our body; part of cars”.

We live in a never-ending system. In effect this is an infinite system, which is interrelated, and every agent is affecting other agents, and those relationships cause a dynamic change of the system. In fact, we are part of this complex dynamic system, and what we do is undoubtedly affecting other agents, in so many ways, shapes, and variations, but we tend not to see it, because we are not used to it, we think linearly.  We see straight lines. Cause and effect. A straight arrow from A to B. A led to B. we are having a hard time to internalize the obvious fact that it is a circle.

Systems Thinking

This may sound weird to you, but before getting familiar with Physics (especially quantum theory and information theory), and systems thinking in general, I was doubtful and considered myself a woman of facts and strong reality, with a special affection to multiple linear regression.

Therefore, repeatedly, Peter Senge introduced this topic of systems thinking in his book “the fifth discipline”, and in other lectures on (2014), with the very clear statement that Gut and heart are fundamental for every process of effective learning and action; and leader are the key. We firstly grasp it from the heart, then we translate it to thinking.

Ricardo Valerdi (2011) is convinced that system thinking is not a natural act. He explains that interruptions distract us from what we are doing; our brain is limited to boundaries of complexity and dynamics. As an example, he mentions Dan Ariely – “predictably irrational” book – on how people tend to wrong decisions because of abilities limitations.

In summary, systems thinking is not natural to us, we are not used to it, our school systems educate us to think linearly, however once we start seeing the patterns, interrelationships, grasp the complexity as a life fact, it is a matter of time, until we view the world utterly differently. Moreover, with enough practice, we can leverage our potential to achieve much better results, and avoid repeating problems.

As Senge says in his book “the fifth discipline” (1994): most of the problems we face as a humanity, reflect our inability to grasp and internalize complex problems.

 

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