What is Systems Thinking? A Review of The Literature

Systems Thinking is a popular current topic in the world of Systems Engineering. However, as yet there is no commonly accepted definition or understanding of it. In this paper, we analyze some of the popular Systems Thinking literature and attempt to identify common themes. We conclude that Systems Thinking is a perspective, a language, and a set of tools.
Specifically, Systems Thinking is the opposite of linear thinking; holistic (integrative) versus analytic (dissective) thinking; recognizing that repeated events or patterns derive from systemic structures which, in turn, derive from mental models; recognizing that behaviors derive from structure; a focus on relationships vs components; and an appreciation of self-organization and emergence. Specific Systems Thinking tools include systemigrams, system archetypes, main chain infrastructures, causal loops with feedback and delays; stock and flow diagrams; behavior-over-time graphs, computer modeling of system dynamics, Interpretive Structural Modeling (ISM), and systemic root cause analysis.

Author: Jamie P. Monat & Thomas F. Gannon

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