Principles of Systems Thinking (Complex Adaptive Chaos)
The practice of Systems Thinking is based on three principles:
- Some ways of thinking about things are more powerful than others in creating the results we want.
- Structure influences results (or performance).
- We're an important part of the structure. In some cases, Pogo's words are the best reminder: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
What is Systems Thinking
One of the major breakthroughs in understanding the complex world of organizations is the field of systems theory. The field studies systems from the perspective of the whole system, its various subsystems and the recurring patterns in the relationships between the subsystems. Systems theory has greatly influenced how we understand and change organizations.
The application of this theory is called systems analysis. One of the major tools of systems analysis is systems thinking. Basically, systems thinking is a way of helping a person to view systems from a broad perspective that includes seeing overall structures, patterns and cycles in systems, rather than seeing only specific events in the system. This broad view can help you to quickly identify the real causes of issues in organizations and know just where to work to address them. Systems thinking has produced a variety of principles and tools for analyzing and changing systems.
By focusing on the entire system, consultants can attempt to identify solutions that address as many problems as possible in the system. The positive effect of those solutions leverages improvement throughout the system. Thus, they are called “leverage points” in the system. This priority on the entire system and its leverage points is called whole systems thinking.
Remember information about the open systems model? That model puts priority on recognizing the interaction between a system and its external environment. The model, in conjunction with whole systems thinking, is a powerful means to analyzing and changing systems.
Steps in Systems Thinking
The iceberg image provides an outline for the Steps in Systems Thinking
1. State the Issue & Tell the Story: Begin your inquiry with the evidence. What are some of the facts that make you or others think that there is an issue?
2. Graph Performance Patterns Over Time: What are the trends?
3. Establish Creative Tension & Draft a Focusing Question: When the trends are visible, we can state how this reality differs from our vision. A good focusing question describes the patterns in the context of what we want. For example: Why, despite our efforts to improve quality, do we continue to miss deadlines?
There is a criitacl shortage of informative articles like this.
Systems theory has evolved to another level called chaos theory. In this context, chaos does not mean total confusion. Chaos refers to the dynamics of a system that apparently has no, or little, order, but in which there really is an underlying order. In these systems, small changes can cause complex changes in the overall system. (In technical terms, chaos theory applies to complex nonlinear dynamics systems.) Chaos theory has introduced new perspectives and tools to study complex systems, such as biological, human, groups, weather, population growth and the solar system.