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Systems Thinking

Tiffany Budert-Waltz, Shawn Grimsley
  • Author
    Tiffany Budert-Waltz

    Tiffany is a doctoral candidate at Barry University in the field of education. She has earned her Master’s degree from Barry University and her Bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University. She also has a Florida Teaching Certification in Mathematics issued by the Florida Department of Education.

  • Instructor
    Shawn Grimsley

    Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Learn the definition of systems thinking. Understand the systems thinking approach and how to use systems thinking tools. See why systems thinking is important. Updated: 01/06/2022

Table of Contents


What is Systems Thinking?

Systems thinking is based on the idea that all key processes in an organization are interrelated. A system is a set of components that work together as a whole to achieve a common goal. A system is greater than the sum of its constituent components because the relationship between the different components adds value to the system. The definition of systems thinking states that it is a cohesive approach that views all subsystems as parts of an overall system, rather than in isolation or as segments.

Systems Thinking Approach

The systems thinking approach analyzes how the component under study interacts with the other constituents of the system. Systems thinking provides a broad perspective as it works by expanding its view to consider a large number of interactions among structures, patterns, and cycles. Systems thinking provides the means by which interconnections can be recognized as the whole system is viewed. This allows for the understanding of how subsystems relate to the entire system. Along with interconnectedness, systems thinking is also comprised of feedback loops. Feedback loops provide insight into cause-effect relationships between subsystems in the overall system. This cause-effect relationship is referred to as causality. When mapping out at what causes what to happen in a system, the process of systems mapping is being utilized. The systems map can serve not only as a visual representation of the cause-effect relationship, but also as an analysis of the causality.

Why is Systems Thinking Important

Systems thinking is important because it allows researchers to recognize parts of a system to the whole system. This is commonly referred to as induction. Alternatively, systems thinking can also aid in helping researchers understand the whole system and, as a result, the parts that make up that system. This is known as deduction. Utilizing an inductive approach or deductive approach will depend on the learning style of the researcher.

Systems thinking helps expand the range of options available for solving a problem by broadening thinking and helping researchers articulate problems in new and different ways. This can be very advantageous in that it makes systems thinking very effective when dealing with difficult types of problems that need solutions. Systems thinking is highly beneficial when dealing with complex issues because it allows for parts of the system to be classified according to their function.

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  • 0:00 Why Is Systems…
  • 0:40 Systems Thinking Defined
  • 1:02 What Is a System?
  • 2:18 Theory and Model
  • 3:40 Advantages of Systems Thinking
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Systems Thinking in Business

As previously stated, systems thinking focuses on the concept that all key processes in an organization are interrelated. In business, systems thinking integrates the personal goals of the individual employees with the overall goal of the organization. The systems thinking approach in business consists of analyzing individual decisions based on their systematic consequences.

Systems Thinking Model

In systems thinking, the analogy of an iceberg is used. The iceberg model is a tool for systems thinking as it depicts what can be seen near the top of the water as observable and what lies far beneath the surface as unobservable. These unobservable elements often cause the observable elements. As pictured below, there is an iceberg. The part of the iceberg under the sea can be divided into four levels: events, patterns, structures, and models. These levels are ordered in such a way that going deeper, or lower, on the iceberg is indicative of a better understanding of the phenomenon or problem at hand.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an example of systems thinking?

An example of systems thinking can be using the iceberg model to figure out what event is happening, how frequently the event happens, why the event is happening, and understanding what beliefs created the system.

What is system thinking and why is it important?

Systems thinking is an approach by which all key processes in an organization are seen as interrelated. It is important because it allows an individual to recognize individual parts of a system to the whole system.

How do you use system thinking?

Systems thinking can be used as a cohesive approach to view all subsystems as parts of an overall system, rather than as individual segments.

What is systems thinking in organizations?

Systems thinking is based on the idea that all key processes in an organization are interrelated. In an organization, systems thinking analyzes individual decisions based on their systematic consequences.

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