As businesses become over-complex and extremely uncertain, more often, framing the right questions to ask or defining the real problems to solve is more challenging than finding the answers or discovering the solutions. Does Systems Thinking change the way you 'define' problems?
System thinking (ST) provides the more holistic way to view the problems. System thinking provides for better and more accurate understanding of the overall situation and problems, and hence better defining the problems and subsequently how you should go about solving them and in what sequence! Apply a "systems approach" - which applies systems thinking to understand the current situation, and then, if an intervention is needed, to guide the resolution and improvement of the situation.
System thinking provides insight into emergent issues. Systems Thinking provides much more than the "scope" of the problem, although that is a large part of it. It provides an insight into the emergent inherent propertiesproperties - both the positive emergent issues required (an engine produces power) and the negative emergent issues (both known and previously unrecognized problems) that come about, particularly due to the combination of parts and the interactions within the system and between the system and its environment.
System thinking provides a structured process and takes consideration of the range of options. The application of systemic methods which are applied in a structured and systematic process allow a more complete and holistic approach to be taken. The main emphasis is in doing better pre-work –such as defining the situation and the "success criteria", Take a consideration of the range of options - rather than the more traditional "jump to solution" problem-solving method.
Systems thinking provides the tools and methodology to define problems under uncertainty; because it helps you actually UNDERSTAND the problem, and understanding a problem is the most critical step in solving it. One’s system thinking defines how one sees "problems". For examples, "predictive" cause and effect in system dynamics can include non-linear cause and effect models. One needs to be clear about one of the common features of systems. The way any element within a system affects the whole depends on what at least one other element is doing.
According to Rosalind Arson's book "Growing wings on the way": "Uncertainty is part of the essential nature of a mess. It starts with the mess itself – it is unclear what the problem is. It is also unclear what a solution would look like or how it might be found. In a mess, it does not seem to make sense to talk about a ‘solution’.......A mess offers no clear starting point, no clear priorities, and no end-point.' You might use system thinking for problem definition with problem boundaries smaller or larger (single or multiple goals), depending on what you consider relevant and endogenous as your hypothesis regarding why are these things have evolved in a certain way. It should be beneficial to apply system thinking to both frame the problems and provide a framework for problem solving.