Systems Thinking

(This page describes the essence of Systems Thinking from the perspective of its original contribution to our discovery of the Fractal Phenomenon and the development of Systemic Thinking - and doesn't even seek to do justice to Systems Thinking in its entirety.  For a detailed overview of Systems Thinking, go to http://www.systems-thinking.org, or google "systems thinking").

Peter SengeSystems Thinking (note the distinction between Systems and Systemic Thinking) was popularised by Peter Senge in his book The Fifth Discipline.  Systems Thinking is a simplified derivative of System Dynamics, but also drew on earlier work in General Systems Theory, Systems Engineering and Systems Analysis.

Systems Thinking focuses primarily on the feedback loop interaction in complex systems, but Senge's biggest contribution - in addition to simplifying and presenting the idea to the business community - was to present eight commmon system-archetypes (patterns) that occur frequently in complex adaptive systems.

The Eight Archetypes (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/System_archetype):

  1. Fixes that Fail (short-term symptomatic relief but long term exacerbation of the problem)
  2. Shifting the Burden (temporary short-term solutions that always always seem more attractive than the fundamental solution)
  3. Limits to Growth (diminishing returns as the system reaches its peak)
  4. Success to the Successful (resources flow to the successful - not necessarily to the best or most deserving)
  5. Eroding Goals (short-term solutions make long-term goals untenable so they are continually discounted)
  6. Growth and Under-Investment (growth outstrips capacity and service and quality suffers)
  7. Escalation (vocious cycle of tit-for-tat)
  8. Tragedy of the Commons (unintentional depletion of common resources

Contribution to the development of Systemic Thinking

  1. The Feedback Loop
  2. The Eight Archetypes (patterns) - and the pattern across them
  3. The concept of focusing on interactions

Click here for an overview of Neurlolinguistic Programming, developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler

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