Learning Pathway- Systems Thinking

Recognizing the interrelationships that contribute to or work against our success.  And understanding the need to do this collectively.

A Systems Story


BEE Environmental Communication
Balaton Group

by Kris Wile

Causal loops show cause and effect relationships between two variables. Each cause and effect relationship is depicted by a link.  The direction, or sign, of links from cause to effect can be positive or negative, or cause a change in the same direction or opposite direction.  Systems thinkers almost always see more than one cause and effect relationship at at time.  In fact, most cause and effect relationships tend to give rise to new cause and effect relationships that feedback, creating a full circle of causes and effects.  

by Kris Wile

Behavior charts, also known as behavior over time graphs, or BOT graphs, are a key element in systemic thinking.  They help us to focus our exploration when trying to understand the dynamic of interest.  Behavior charts also provide insight into what types of structures (reinforcing or balancing feedback loops) might be driving that dynamic.   There are several types of key dynamics that systemic thinkers tend to be watchful of.

By Daniel Kim

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.


By Michael Goodman

Many of the most vexing problems confronting managers today are caused by a web of tightly interconnected circular relationships. Unfortunately, Westerners find such problems particularly challenging because we traditionally discuss them using English—a linear language that predisposes us to focus on one-way, rather than circular or mutually causative, relationships. Systems thinking, on the other hand, is a language of complexities and interdependencies; its precise, explicit, visual characteristics make it a useful framework for discussing and analyzing complex issues.

This document is intended for individual use only. Copyright restrictions apply.

April 1991

By David Berdish

What does complexity look like within a large organization, and how should we deal with it? In this article, Ford's David Berdish describes how companies with high levels of both system and social complexity face especially daunting challenges. Warning against trying to control complexity, he offers ways to understand the systems in which we operate. By doing so, we can work within them in a healthy, successful way, strengthen relationships, and nurture diverse perspectives. In addition, Berdish includes a "backpack" of learning tools, such as systems thinking and dialogue, that we can draw on while traversing the Badlands of organizational complexity.

This document is intended for individual use only. Copyright restrictions apply.

April 2001

By Michael Goodman

Even if you're intrigued by the possibility of looking at business problems in systemic ways, you may not know how to go about actually using the principles and tools in your workplace. The tips in this article are designed to get you started, whether youíre trying to introduce systems thinking in your company or attempting to implement the tools in an organization that already supports this approach. Learn what systems thinking involves; why itís important; when, where, and how to use it; and how to recognize when youíve gotten a handle on it.

This document is intended for individual use only. Copyright restrictions apply.

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March 1997

In this article, we explore how Systems Thinking can bring communities together by creating a shared understanding of a problem and lead to important insights that have both immediate and long-term impacts.

Homelessness Coalition Utilizes Systems Thinking Resources for Major Results