Systems thinking is an essential skill for systems engineers because it is shared with many disciplines and provides a key intellectual underpinning for systems engineering.
Adopting a systems approach takes persistence and curiosity. Many people have thought systemically all their lives. But for most, the jump to systems thinking requires time, practice, curiosity and intentionality.
And then, once you get the hang of it, you might feel like the sole systems thinker in a linear thinking organization – a lonely place.
Still, for systems engineering, the benefits are considerable for developing a systems thinking shift of mind, such as:
- Aligns teams, disciplines, specialisms and interest groups
- Minimizes the impact of unintended consequences
- Maximizes outcomes
- Manages risk, uncertainty and opportunity
- Helps to understand complex problems
How to Nurture Systems Thinking
The process of system mapping takes into account not only the elements but also the connections, relationships and feedback loops between them. That’s how systems thinkers develop insights around interventions or strategies that can shape the system in the most effective way. This is how a useful solution is found from what initially appears to be unrelated input.
- Instead of focusing on one item … Look at all the variables that impact the item
- Rather than thinking you know the answer … Search for evidence that confirms your theory. Also search for evidence that rejects your theory
- Instead of just looking at what people are doing … Examine the forces at work. What is pushing individuals toward different behaviors?
- Instead of hearing words in the normal way … Listen for how they say it. What aren’t they saying?
By practicing simple exercises in systems thinking, you can then move up to more involved ones. When you encounter situations which are complex, systems thinking can help you understand the situation systemically. This helps to see the big picture from which we may identify multiple leverage points that can be addressed to support constructive change.
The systems thinking approach clearly demonstrates that strategy is a loop or a circle, not a linear process. It’s not about replacing one rigid process with another. It’s all about being responsive to shifting dynamics in increasingly complex environments.
This is why many organizations have turned to systems thinking as a means for analyzing and solving “big picture” issues. In doing so, proponents of systems thinking advocate that solving problems though expanded perspectives helps a workforce become more creative.
Would you or your organization like to learn more about systems thinking? Tonex offers a 2-day course, Systems Thinking Training that covers all important areas of systems thinking including complexity theory, interactive planning, critical systems heuristic and hard systems thinking.
For more information, questions, comments, contact us.