By looking back to the work of the greek philosophers Heraclitus and Parmenides, the starting point for the ‘atomists’, we begin to understand one of the primary issues with predominant thinking in the western world. In a nutshell, there is a sense that the pursuit of scientific reductionism masks the real complexity of the world and many systems assume a level of rationality which lock us into a cycle of commitment to false assumptions.
In contrast, 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. Systems thinking is not one thing but a set of habits or practices.
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. Systems thinking concerns a holistic understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the elements that compose the entirety of the system.
A systems approach to understanding
However, the meeting went on to discuss the importance of understanding that close attention to a place can reveal a great deal about the wider system., perhaps defined as follows:
- A system is composed of parts.
- All the parts of a system must be related (directly or indirectly), else there are really two or more distinct systems
- A system is encapsulated, has a boundary.
- The boundary of a system is a decision made by an observer, or a group of observers.
- A system can be nested inside another system.
- A system can overlap with another system.
- A system is bounded in time.
- A system is bounded in space, though the parts are not necessarily co-located.
- A system receives input from, and sends output into, the wider environment.
- A system consists of processes that transform inputs into outputs.