Systems understanding

What is a system? What is systems thinking?

A system holds a collection of different parts along with their relationships.  All together it forms a larger system or system of system, with a unified meaning.  When parts of a system are removed it is not the same as it was as part of the system.  This is because systems can interact in some manner.  For example, the output of one system could be the input for another.  The mere collection of information can make systems and science appear to be the same, but they differ.  Science has a hypothesis and prescriptive process to deep dive into a piece of a larger whole.  Boardman & Sauser (2008) mention science not considering relationships, but I believe in some cases adding a qualitative analysis could potentially consider relationships.  Regardless, systems are more emergent and considers relationships as a valuable part of the process.

Systems are not linear, but more of a heterogeneous collection.  In class (also discussed in reading) we talked about systems being as macro perhaps referring to an organization as a whole, and as micro as a single class. In addressing problems or failures in a system it might only be in one business unit and not the system as a whole.  Since systems interact one failed system can affect other systems. Once the one failed system is addressed the problem can organically repair in related systems.  This highlights the need for a systems thinking approach to identify the root of any failures. Systems thinking is taking in multiple perspectives and looking at a problem from every vantage point. Perhaps one of my favorite perspectives is from Boardman & Sauser (2008) “Systems thinking does not suppress or supplant perspectives; it adopts them and finds sense in their multiplicity and diversity, their surprise.” (p2) At a micro level individuals affected by the problem should be part of a discovery process to generate the array of perspectives needed.

In taking my understanding of what a system is, and how systems thinking approaches problems I strive to build a proficiency in analyzing problems and identifying pain points.  More specifically, I would like to be able to analyze complex unstructured problems and learn how to make sense of them.  Challenges that arise in business are never presented in a tidy package. Relationships, internal and external elements, and related interactions exist and don’t purposely or maliciously go awry, but there can be an organic shift and gradual deterioration.  I would like to be better equipped to apply a systems thinking approach to these challenges.


Boardman, J. & Sauser, B. (2008) Systems Thinking: Coping with 21st Century Problems (Systems Innovation Book Series) CRC Press. Kindle Edition.

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