Thursday, October 8, 2015

How Deep is Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a way of understanding complexity.

Systems Thinking is the ability to navigate levels of abstraction or logic as an essential thinking skill for STers. Systemizing is the drive to analyze and explore a system, to extract underlying rules that govern the behavior of a system; and the drive to construct systems. There are two different "Systems Thinking" issues that are endlessly debated - "where do you draw the boundary" and "how do you partition the whole"?

The level of trust is required. As Systems Thinking deals with nonlinear systems, the results of the intervention to be proposed by a STer as a leverage point will be nonlinear as well: no immediate improvement or some losses, in the beginning, very small changes in the middle, while huge benefits after some delay. Having the patience to wait without seeing any changes demands trust to the STer's as a person, or to the ST principles as such generic nature and high abstract level. ST is very generic and can be applied to many areas. This positive side has the other side of setting high requirements on the STer's expertise, being able to get inside a new domain pretty quickly. While ST is quite good as a general approach (methodology /philosophy), it is not easy to use it "on the floor," for a particular task in a particular domain. The generality also hinders spreading among professionals in various application domains, as the learning curve is quite long, and may be disconnected from the near to the further problems.

Systems Thinking requires deep thinking!! Using ST is tightly coupled with having modeling skills. The latter is not easy to acquire even for ordinary "reductionist" modeling. Such skills include two parts: (a) formal - knowledge on syntax and semantics of a modeling language, and (b) informal (tacit knowledge) - a skill to dissect the reality and identify object/systems and their relationships. While (a) can be acquired by sitting on the school bench, reading books, etc., (b) requires doing things (modeling). To make acquiring (b) efficient, one should become an apprentice to an ST master, following the master and getting partial assignments in real cases. Indeed, it would not be unusual for the roles of master and apprentice to be shared with each deferring to the other regarding particular areas of knowledge.

A possible remedy is by using ST as a high level "philosophy" to create practical methodologies/ packages. It aims at solving a particular class of tasks in particular domains. Systems Thinkers shape a worldview based on the realization of interconnectedness. Simply a lot of us as humans can and really think systemically, even if we are not aware of this factor don't use the specific terms by default. Everyone performs systems thinking to some degree, whether they're aware of it or not. Any new thing to acquire is a change. And to be accepted, it needs to fit the mental model of the person, meaning either she wants it in the first place, and so adapted her mind to accepting it and working enough to bend its mind to fit the new change, or the change is presented in a way that is already acceptable to the person.

Systems thinking is a way of understanding complexity; to transposing another term, 'systems,' put an emphasis on 'a way.' It is a descriptive term for an object or an experience. Systems Thinking by definition is a cognitive process (thinking), a profound thinking process to embrace holism and nonlinearity.


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