The term “systems thinking” is really a mixed bag and I use it very cautiously.
First, both words are problematic, but the word system is very problematic:
if you say the word system the picture image that pops up into most people’s head is computer system, you know like “we need a systems expert, our system’s not working”.
The second most common association is “management control system”
as in: ‘’it’s not my fault, it’s the stoopid system!”
These are the two associations that come to people and neither of them is what we’re trying to help people understand.
So I usually start off by saying “are you part of a family?”
Have you ever seen, in a family, people producing consequences in the family – how people feel, how people feel act -that aren’t what anybody intended?
How does that happen?
We live in webs of interdependence…
A family is a fairly close-knit one, but still, you can kinda see most of the key players, but still, even though we can identify maybe the ten or fifteen and identify all the key people, still the complexity of interactions amongst those people is obviously such that, consistently, families produce outcomes that nobody wants.
It’s not to understand ‘systems’ – that’s an abstraction – it’s to understand that the problems that are the most vexing and difficult and intransigent that we all deal with come about.
…and obviously to get a perspective on those problems that gives us some leverage, some insight as to what we might do differently.