Introduction to Systems Thinking


System. We hear and use the word all the time. “There’s no sense in trying to buck the system,” we might say. Or, “This job’s getting out of control, I’ve got to establish a system.” Whether you are aware of it or not, you are a member of many systems – a family, a community, a church, a company. You yourself are a complex biological system comprising many smaller systems. And every day, you probably interact with dozens of systems, such as automobiles, retail stores, the organization you work for, etc. But what exactly is a system? How would we know one if we saw one, and why is it important to understand systems? Most important, how can we manage our organizations more effectively by understanding systems?

This volume explores these questions and introduces the principles and practice of a quietly growing field: systems thinking. With roots in disciplines as varied as biology, cybernetics, and ecology, systems thinking provides a way of looking at how the world works that differs markedly from the traditional reductionistic, analytic view. Why is a systemic perspective an important complement to analytic thinking? One reason is that understanding how systems work – and how we play a role in them – lets us function more effectively and proactively within them. The more we understand systemic behavior, the more we can anticipate that behavior and work with systems (rather than being controlled by them) to shape the quality of our lives.

It’s been said that systems thinking is one of the key management competencies for the 21st century. As our world becomes ever more tightly interwoven globally and as the pace of change continues to increase, we will all need to become increasingly “system-wise.” This volume gives you the language and tools you need to start applying systems thinking principles and practices in your own organization.

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