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System thinking is being able to examine and analyze ourselves and things around us with the express purpose of being able to improve upon them.

The Art of Thinking in Systems

The Art of Thinking in Systems

by Steven Schuster


3.31K reads

Systems And System Thinking

A system is anything that has interacting and interconnected parts.

The human body is an example of a system. It reacts to the environment and is composed of many interdependent parts such as the brain, digestive, and circulatory systems.

Systems thinking


It is impossible to know the behavior of a system just by knowing the parts that make up that system

The Elements of System Thinking

Systems are made up of three parts: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose.

Elements are the actors in the system.

  • Interconnections are the different relationships between the elements. In our example of the circulatory system, the relationship...

Types of Thinking

  • Linear Thinking. This involves looking for a cause and effect. It is a one-to-one solution that tells us that there is a beginning and an end to everything
  • Event Oriented Thinking. This kind of thinking assumes that life is made up of a series of e...

Levels of System Maturity

  • Level 0 – Unawareness. You are completely unaware of the system thinking concept
  • Level 1 – Shallow Awareness. You are aware of system thinking but do not show any depth of understanding
  • Level 2 - Deep Awareness. You are a...

The first step in shifting from linear thinking to system thinking is to ask if something is actually the problem or a symptom of something deeper. 

Linear thinking focuses on solving a problem while system thinking digs deeper to see if systematic issues exist.

  • Check the amount of time and energy devoted to solving it. If you are spending more time and energy than is needed, you are likely dealing with a symptom rather than the real issue
  • When people with the power to solve the issue ignore it, and would rather spend their time complaining,...

Ten Enemies of System Thinking

  • Let’s fix it quick.
  • Put a band-aid on it.  
  • Budgeting. 
  • Responding right away.
  • Who cares? Being apathetic is a sign that the organization is not willing to engage in systematic thinkin...

Understanding System Behaviour

  • Stocks serve as the base of every system. Stocks are sorts of snapshots in time, showing a current view of the changing flows in the system. The changing nature of stocks keeps the system alive.
  • Flows are actions that impact the system. Examples of...

Systems Errors

  • When behaviour patterns of a system are stuck in time, change can be difficult and you get policy resistance. 
  • Policy resistance arises when the goals of the subsystems do not match.
  • When the goals are inconsistent, they end up competing with each other. The system ends up be...

Systems can be stuck in a negative loop that risks killing off the entire system. This happens when there is an erosion of goals and expectations.

One way to fight the negative loop is to maintain absolute standards no matter what happens to performance.  The second way is to set performanc...


In terms of systems, escalation is a reinforcing loop that is created when actors try to compete to get ahead of one another.

Escalation is connected to achieving a positive goal. But when escalation erodes relationships within systems, it is not a good thing.

For ins...

The Rich Always Get Richer: The Answer To The Riddle

Winning creates a powerful feedback loop that reinforces gains that have already been achieved.

For example:

Teams that win championships receive more TV revenues and showtime. As a result, they get more fans and even more money. This allows them to ...

It is impossible to have two species living in the same ecological niche surviving on the same resources. One will be forced out. 

The competitive exclusion principle explains why governments are required to intervene in markets because, without such interventions, monopolies would dominate...

System Thinking in Relationships

The four communications styles that end relationships:

  • Criticism. Criticism will leave your partner feeling attacked and rejected
  • Contempt. Communicating with contempt leaves the other person feeling unloved and unappreciate...

Thinking of our relationship as a system and stock mean that both partners are feedback loops. We look for any changes that may have happened recently and analyze whether the system dynamics have changed.

By applying system thinking to relationship problems you will be able to take...

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10 Powerful Lessons of the book “The Art of Thinking Clearly”



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