Fundamentals of Systems Thinking

A fairly influential discipline in the early 60s, generally used as introduction to System Modeling or Systems Analysis when the first extenisive computer database structures were being slapped together - the theoretical approach was to observe systems and processes (anything from how the infrastructure of a bridge worked to how people move through a grocery store) from a level of abstraction that allowed for the flow-charting or linear modeling of the various operations, inputs, outputs and by-products moving through each step. This pen and paper approach, however, gave way to more rigid automated simulations as computing power came to the fore of organizational structuring. Which is too bad, since flow charts are fun.

The Problematic Reduction of Complexity : "We know that there are thousands of celestial bodies in our solar system...any analysis of planetary motions, however, begins by ignoring most of these bodies...although this seems a natural step - so natural that normal textbooks on mechanics do not ordinarily mention it - it happens to work only in special circumstances. Any other circumstances are not considered proper systems for mechanistic thinking...the DNA in a living cell in a miniscule amount of the cell material, but understanding cellular biology would be impossible without it considering its role. The queen bee in a hive is only one of 1000s, but no ethnologist would dare ignore here." (4-5)

The Analytical Power of Separation : "A separation of a system into non-interacting subsystems is an extremely important technique known to all developed sciences - to understand the power of such separation, we need only recall the Square Law of Computation. If solving a system of N equations takes N2 units of computation, N separate single equations, taken one at a time, will take only the same units." (11)
ex. one 6-equation system = 6² (36) complexity vs. two 3-equation systems = 3² + 3² (18) complexity vs. six 1-equation systems = 1²+1²+1²+1²+1²+1² (6) complexity
The Principle of Purpose : "The appearance of absolute meaning in certain statements comes because there is an almost universal agreement on the meanings it contains...with 'man-made' systems we talk about 'purpose', whereas such language is forbidden with 'natural' systems. Yet much of the dissatisfaction with our man-made systems stems precise from disagreement about what the purpose of a system is : that is, what the system REALLY is. The answer, of course, is that the system has no purpose, for Purpose is a relation, not a thing to have." (57)

The Danger of Simplification : "How can we avoid the fallacies of absolute thought?...remember the human origin of our models, words, instruments and techniques. Absolute though is a simplification that serves us well a certain times, on a certain scale of observation, and for certain purposes...usually following conventional patterns that will work, IF the situation remains conventional." (61)

The Axiom of Experience : "The Future Will Be Like the Past, because, in the past, The Future Was Like The Past." (141)
Source : Introduction to General Systems Thinking. Weinberg, Gerald M. (NY : Wiley, 1975)

Systems thinking is a field of study that is closely related to the field of system dynamics. The two fields share many of the same concepts and tools, but systems thinking is less concerned with computer modeling and simulation of systmes than it is with focusing its lens on "softer," less quantitative problems.

Systems thinking has found a niche within organizational dynamics, futures studies, and other fields that can benefit from the tools of structural analysis but typically consider problem domains that don't quantify well.

In 1990, Dr. Peter Senge, Director of the Organizational Learning Center at MIT, wrote The Fifth Discipline, which can arguably called the "bible" of systems thinking field.

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