An Intro to Systems Thinking

November 20, 2017 Cory Sarver, P Thaz Appreciation of Systems 2 minutes, 5 seconds

What is a System

A system is a set of elements, connected together, which form a whole; this showing properties which are properties of the whole rather than of its component parts.(Checkland,).

There are four fundamental types of systems:

  • natural systems, e.g. a biological organism
  • designed physical systems, e.g. a building
  • designed abstract systems, e.g. a mathematical equation, and
  • human activity systems, e.g. a team engaged on a task, or a health care organisation.

Multifamily operations is one such "human activity" System.

The last is seen as crucially different from the former three in that while the others can be described objectively, human activity systems are understood differently by the various ‘human actors’ involved in them, who attribute different meanings to what they perceive. As long as each is logically consistent it is valid for the person making it and is therefore not right or wrong. Here objectivity has been described as the social product of the open interaction of a wide variety of individual subjectivities.

What is Systems Thinking

“Systems thinking is a vantage point from which you see a whole, a web of relationships, rather than focusing only on the detail of any particular piece. Events are seen in the larger context of a pattern that is unfolding over time.” isee systems, inc.

In its essence it is about seeing inter-relationships rather than linear cause-and-effect chains, and in seeing processes of change rather than snapshots.

Systems thinking is a way of interpreting the universe as a series of interconnected and inter-related wholes. It is a way of identifying the inherent organisation within a complex situation and has been called organised complexity. Systems thinkers contrast dynamic complexity (the relationships between things) with detail complexity (details about things).

It is an approach, a set of general principles and specific tools and techniques, rather than a subject area in its own right; it can be applied within many different fields and is therefore described as a meta-discipline.

This talk provides an introduction to systems thinking for people with little prior knowledge of the field. It is useful to identify four key systems thinking skills:

  1. Exploring boundaries – understanding the inclusion, exclusion and marginalisation of stakeholders and the issues that concern them.
  2. Appreciating multiple perspectives – how and why stakeholders frame issues in different ways.
  3. Understanding relationships – networks of interconnections within and across systems.
  4. Thinking in terms of systems themselves – organised wholes with properties that cannot be anticipated by analysing any one part of the system in isolation.