Systems Thinking, Systems Tools and Chaos Theory

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Sections of this topic

    Systems Thinking, Systems Tools and Chaos Theory

    Guidelines for analyzing and improving systems are included in the books Field
    Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development
    and Field
    Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development with Nonprofits
    .

    Three of the biggest breakthroughs in how we understand and
    successfully guide changes in ourselves, others and organizations
    are systems theory, systems thinking and systems tools. To understand
    how they are used, we first must understand the concept of a system.
    Many of us have an intuitive understanding of the concept. However,
    we need to make that intuition even more explicit in order to
    use systems thinking and systems tools.

    Sections of This Topic Include

    Much of the content
    of this topic came from this book:
    Consulting and Organization Development - Book Cover

    Basics — Definitions
    – – – What’s a System?
    – – – What’s Systems Theory?
    – – – What’s Systems Thinking?
    – – – What are Some Systems Principles?
    – – – What are Some Systems Tools?
    Systems Thinking in Organizations
    Organizations as Open Systems (examples of organizational
    systems)

    Five Disciplines of Systems Thinking —
    Per Peter Senge

    Some Applications of Systems Theory
    Chaos Theory
    Links to Additional Resources

    Also see
    Concentration
    Creative
    Thinking

    Critical
    Thinking

    Mindfulness
    Mindsets
    Reframing
    Systems
    Thinking

    Strategic
    Thinking

    Related Library Topics
    Theory
    of Change – Understanding How Any System Works

    Also See the Library’s Blogs Related to Systems Theory, Chaos Theory and Systems
    Thinking

    In addition to the articles on this current page, also see the following blogs
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    Definitions: Systems, Systems Theory, Systems Thinking, Tools

    What’s a System?

    Adapted from the Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development:
    Collaborative and Systems Approach to Performance Change and Learning
    .

    One of the biggest breakthroughs in how we understand and guide
    change in organizations is systems theory and systems thinking.
    To understand how they are used in organizations, we first must
    understand a system. Many of us have an intuitive understanding
    of the term. However, we need to make the understanding explicit
    in order to use systems thinking and systems tools in organizations.

    Simply put, a system is an organized collection of parts (or
    subsystems) that are highly integrated to accomplish an overall
    goal. The system has various inputs, which go through certain
    processes to produce certain outputs, which together, accomplish
    the overall desired goal for the system. So a system is usually
    made up of many smaller systems, or subsystems. For example, an
    organization is made up of many administrative and management
    functions, products, services, groups and individuals. If one
    part of the system is changed, the nature of the overall system
    is often changed, as well — by definition then, the system is
    systemic, meaning relating to, or affecting, the entire system.
    (This is not to be confused with systematic, which can mean merely
    that something is methodological. Thus, methodological thinking
    — systematic thinking — does not necessarily mean systems thinking.)

    Systems range from simple to complex. There are numerous types
    of systems. For example, there are biological systems (for example,
    the heart), mechanical systems (for example, a thermostat), human/mechanical
    systems (for example, riding a bicycle), ecological systems (for
    example, predator/prey) and social systems (for example, groups,
    supply and demand and also friendship). Complex systems, such
    as social systems, are comprised of numerous subsystems, as well.
    These subsystems are arranged in hierarchies, and integrated to
    accomplish the overall goal of the overall system. Each subsystem
    has its own boundaries of sorts, and includes various inputs,
    processes, outputs and outcomes geared to accomplish an overall
    goal for the subsystem. Complex systems usually interact with
    their environments and are, thus, open systems.

    A high-functioning system continually exchanges feedback among
    its various parts to ensure that they remain closely aligned and
    focused on achieving the goal of the system. If any of the parts
    or activities in the system seems weakened or misaligned, the
    system makes necessary adjustments to more effectively achieve
    its goals.

    A pile of sand is not a system. If you remove a sand particle, you have still
    got a pile of sand. However, a functioning car is a system. Remove the carburetor
    and you no longer have a working car.

    Definition of
    a System

    What’s Systems Theory?

    What is Systems
    Theory?

    Introduction
    to Systems Theory

    What
    is management and what do managers do? A systems theory account

    Principia Cybernetica’s
    list of links

    Managing
    Boundaries in Systems

    What’s Systems Thinking?

    What is Systems Thinking?
    Introduction to Systems Thinking
    Overview
    of Systems Thinking

    Organizational
    Lens — How Different People Can View the Same Organization Very
    Differently

    Systems
    Thinking – What’s That?

    What Are Some Systems Principles?

    Some
    Systems Principles (for changing systems)

    Principles
    of Change

    What Are Some Systems Tools?

    Logic
    Models

    Systems Context
    Diagram

    System
    Diagrams

    Systems
    Dynamics (scroll down to “causal loop diagrams”)
    Systems
    Mapping

    Systems Thinking in Organizations

    Business
    Organizations as Systems

    Quick Tour of
    Systems Thinking and Organizational Learning (many links)

    Theory of Constraints
    Systems
    View: A Social-Technical Perspective

    Managing
    Boundaries in Systems

    Performance
    and Family Systems

    Systems Thinking – A Leadership Imperative

    Organizations as Open Systems (Examples of Systems in Organizations)

    Organizations as Open Systems

    What’s an Open System? (includes depiction)
    Benefits of an Open Systems View
    Organizations
    as Open Systems

    Systems
    Thinking and Learning Organizations (scroll down to “Organizations are
    Open Systems”)

    Open
    system (systems theory)

    Open Systems
    Planning

    Examples of Systematic Activities in Organizations

    Typical
    Types of Systematic Plans
    Examples
    of Performance Management Systems
    Examples
    of Management Systems for Specific Functions (Boards and Strategic Planning
    Processes)

    Five Disciplines of Systems Thinking
    — Per Peter Senge

    Peter Senge wrote a seminal book about systems thinking, The
    Fifth Discipline
    (Doubleday, 1990). In his book, he suggested
    five disciplines necessary to cultivate systems thinking in an
    effort or organization. In addition to the discipline of systems
    thinking, he suggests the following four disciplines, as well.

    Personal Mastery

    Senge describes personal mastery as “continually clarifying
    and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of
    developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively” (The
    Fifth Discipline
    , Doubleday, 1990, p. 7).
    Personal
    Wellness

    Personal
    Development

    Mental Models

    Senge explains “Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions,
    generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how
    we understand the world and how we take action” (p. 8).
    Inquiry
    and Advocacy are two primary techniques to identify and reframe
    mental models

    Mental
    Models

    Mental
    Model Musings

    Mental
    Models – Theoretical Overview

    Valuing
    Diversity

    Also see
    Appreciative
    Inquiry

    Continuous
    Learning

    Effective
    Questioning

    Inquiry
    and Advocacy

    Inquiry
    and Reflection

    Mental
    Models (scan down to “Mental Models”)

    Reframing

    Building Shared Vision

    Senge notes “If any one idea about leadership has inspired
    organizations for thousands of years, it’s the capacity to hold
    a shared picture of the future we seek to create” (p. 9).
    Developing
    a Vision

    To Lead, Create a Shared Vision

    Also see

    Appreciative
    Inquiry

    Dialoguing
    Feedback
    Interviews
    (exit interviews, by media, for a job, selecting job candidate
    and research method)

    Listening
    Planning
    (planning that is carried out well goes a long way toward shared
    vision)

    Presenting
    Non-Verbal
    Communications

    Questioning
    Vision
    Statements

    Team Learning

    Senge asks “How can a team of committed managers with
    individual IQs above 120 have a collective IQ of 63?” (p.
    9.).He adds “Team learning is vital because teams, not individuals,
    are the fundamental learning unit in modern organizations”
    (p. 10).
    Team learning: More than group thinking
    Dialoguing
    Team
    Building

    Group
    Performance Management

    Some Applications of Systems Theory

    Management and Leadership: A Systemic Perspective
    Victims of the System or Systems of the Victim
    Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems That
    Never Happened

    6 Key Benefits of Building Systems

    Chaos Theory — Seeing Patterns and Themes
    in Chaos

    Systems theory has evolved to another level called chaos theory. In this context,
    chaos does not mean total confusion. Chaos refers to the dynamics of a system
    that apparently has no, or little, order, but in which there really is an underlying
    order. In these systems, small changes can cause complex changes in the overall
    system. (In technical terms, chaos theory applies to complex non-linear dynamics
    systems.) Chaos theory has introduced new perspectives and tools to study complex
    systems, such as biological, human, groups, weather, population growth and the
    solar system.
    Definitions of Chaos
    Complex Adaptive
    Systems

    What is Chaos Theory?
    Deterministic
    Chaos

    Managing
    Complexity


    Complexity, Complex Systems and Chaos Theory

    Ted Lumley’s Home Page
    Complexity Theory: Fact-Free Science or Business Tool?
    Bill Huitt’s Home
    Page: Arts as Science

    Innovation Network
    Chaos theory in organizational development

    Links to Online Resources

    Applying Systems Thinking to the Practice of Six
    Sigma

    Link
    to Numerous Articles

    Balancing
    Technology, Management, and Leadership

    Systems
    Thinking Blog

    Systems Thinking: What, Why, When, Where, and How?
    Tools for Systems Thinker


    For the Category of Systems Thinking:

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