Systems Thinking

What would happen to our society if we banned abortions? Why has the world population grown from 2.5 billion in the 1950s to over 7 billion in 2012 and how much will it grow in the next decade? Why do some people think that we’re nearing the end of the world based on current consumption patterns? Why do some animal populations go extinct, and how does that affect their ecosystems? Why are prison costs ballooning and do the benefits of prisons actually exceed the costs? Why do people fall into alcoholism, drug use, and homelessness? Is our society getting better or worse?

These are all questions about various systems in our society, and systems thinking is a framework that helps us understand how systems function, why they behave the way they do, and what we can do to generate better results. Studying systems thinking will help you gain wisdom. It allows you to frame problems as a complex set of relationships where holistic thinking is required to achieve sustainable success.

Systems thinkers are equipped with a unique language and way of perceiving the world. To start, first learn the basic tools such as how to read Causal Loop Diagrams, and become familiar with the concepts of feedback loops and delays. Then, you will realize that the majority of systems in our society share a common set of Archetypes that occur across all types of systems.

If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves. . . . There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.

—Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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