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What the heck is Systems Thinking?

And how can it help my business?

What is Systems Thinking?
What is Systems Thinking?

This was originally a LinkedIn post, and slightly shorter as a result. But it seemed to garner a bit of interest.

I talk about being a Systems Specialist and certified in Systems Thinking among other things. But what the heck is Systems Thinking?

So I thought I might clear up a couple of things when it comes to my title around Systems Specialist. (Maybe I am just using the wrong term, all suggestion on a postcard please.)

Systems Thinking is not I.T. When I say Systems Thinking a lot of people think it has something to do with technology or computers. While IT can be used to support the implementation of a designed solution it is like saying "I am an interior designer" and people think you are selling wallpaper.

Systems Thinking is looking at the Bigger Picture Systems thinking is a way of understanding and addressing complex problems that considers the relationships and interactions between the various parts of a system. It involves recognizing that a system is more than just the sum of its parts, and that the behaviour of the system as a whole is influenced by the interactions between its various elements.

Most people will look at a simple cause and effect when issues start appearing. It is how we have been taught to look at problems. When problem solving in Maths or Physics there is usually one correct answer.

Instead Systems Thinking requires us to look at more than just a cause and effect, it goes as far as relationships and culture, even the way problems are institutionally examined.

Systems thinking can be applied to a wide range of fields, including engineering, biology, social science, and business, to help identify and understand the root causes of problems and design effective solutions.

In Real Life there is rarely one simple solution

In real life there is never one correct answer, when people and culture are involved there are so many shades of grey and never a wrong or a right answer that it is difficult to cut through everything that goes on in an organisation or society. But what frequently happens is that you fix what seems to be an issue to either have it pop up again a little later down the road, or it causes an entirely unexpected issues somewhere else, leaving a business owner or manager tearing their hair out.

The flaw is not in the implemented solution but how the solution was arrived at. The way we are taught to approach issues is fundamentally flawed and not designed for real life. We need to look at the bigger picture, the far bigger picture, to start to get a handle on what might be contributing to an issue.

Fixing an issue is like trying to find a Leaky pipe

And just like trying to find a leak in a building, what seem to be the most obvious place is often not the main culprit, if there is even a 'Main Culprit'. Issues can bubble along all sorts of routes before the damp patch surfaces to catch your attention.

Systems Thinking is a way of looking at issue like a 3D puzzle, a problem that needs to be picked up, turned over, passed around and studied before taking apart and fixing. And often requires carefully controlled incremental changes so as not to blow a massive hole in the leaky pipe that you hadn't noticed before, which is nowhere near the damp patch appearing.

So you can see there are a few high level benefits to using Systems Thinking for life in general, but what can it specifically do for business?

Benefits to Business

There are several benefits of using systems thinking in a business context:

👉 Improved problem-solving: By considering the interactions between different parts of a system, systems thinking can help identify root causes of problems and design more effective solutions.

👉Increased efficiency: Systems thinking can help businesses identify and eliminate bottlenecks and inefficiencies in their processes.

👉Better decision-making: Systems thinking helps businesses understand the potential consequences of their actions, allowing them to make more informed decisions.

👉Enhanced collaboration: Systems thinking promotes a holistic view of the organization, encouraging collaboration and communication between different departments and teams.

👉Greater adaptability: Systems thinking enables businesses to anticipate and respond to changing circumstances, helping them to remain agile and adaptable in a rapidly evolving market.

So you can see it is a powerful tool for businesses looking to solve complex problems and increase efficiency. By considering the interactions between different parts of a system, we can identify root causes of problems and design more effective solutions.

Systems thinking can also help us make better decisions, enhance collaboration, and remain adaptable in a rapidly changing market.

If you're looking to take your business to the next level, consider incorporating systems thinking into your decision-making process. And unlike IT, it won't cost you anything to think a little differently.


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