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9 Min. Read

All About Systems Thinking

All About Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a way to understand the world in terms of systems. Systems are made up of interconnected parts that work together. They create something bigger than themselves, like an ecosystem or society. These systems can be hierarchical (e.g., military rank) or linear (i.e., supply chain). The key is that they interact with each other and affect one another’s behaviour or characteristics. For example, if an apple tree grows too big, it will break the branch holding up all the apples. This causes them to fall off prematurely.

The systems approach helps us see how our actions impact other people, places, things and even timeframes. This is why systems thinking is important in business. This article will discuss systems thinking in depth. You'll also learn what it is, how to practice systems thinking and more.

Here’s What We’ll Cover:

What is Systems Thinking in Business?

What are the Four Patterns of System Thinking?

How Does Systems Thinking Compare to Design Thinking?

How to Practice Systems Thinking in Your Business?

Tools and Software You Can Use to Implement Systems Thinking in the Workplace

What is the Opposite of Systems Thinking?

Key Takeaways

What is Systems Thinking in Business?

Systems thinking is a way to think. It helps with a wide range of areas. It takes into account the effects of our choices and actions on other people, places, things and timeframes. If we understand complex systems, we make better decisions. We don't act in isolation. We relate our actions to others' reactions (or what's called feedback). Systems thinking is often used in business. It's also useful for any area that involves decision-making and planning.

For example, systems thinking is important for:


Leaders need to consider not just their own goals and objectives. They also need to consider the people they work with and how everything affects the bottom line. Systems thinking can help leaders and managers to take the big picture into account.

Strategy and planning

A systems thinker can help businesses develop better business plans and strategies. For example, you could look at how their branding strategy affects market share over time. If your finances aren't looking great, you could identify which part of the system is causing problems. You could solve this problem by making a change in an upstream part of the system.

Product development

How are you going to make something better? Systems thinking is useful here. It can help businesses identify which parts of their production cycle need improvement. By identifying potential problems early on, businesses can save time and money. For example, let's say that your product is taking a long time to get from Point A (purchase order) to Point B (receiving). Systems thinking could help you identify the issue. It might be with production or shipping, for example.

Customer service and customer experience

Systems thinking can help businesses understand their customers' experience more fully. What are their interactions like? Which parts of the process are causing problems? Systems thinking can help businesses pinpoint these issues. It can also help them to identify opportunities for improvement. This enables them to do better by both existing and potential customers.

What are the Four Patterns of System Thinking?

Systems thinking is thought to have four main patterns of behaviour. They are distinctions, systems, relationships and perspectives.

  • Distinctions. Distinctions are a way to classify things. What's going on around us affects our decisions and actions. Our distinctions tell us how we see a situation.
  • Systems. Systems are made up of parts. These parts interact to form something bigger. This gives the system its properties and characteristics.
  • Relationships. How a system's parts relate to each other matters. It can alter the whole system or cause it to break down completely. When we understand these relationships, we have more power over how our actions influence things around.
  • Relationships. The relationships in a system help define it. They can influence the system or cause it to break down completely. When we understand these relationships, we have more power over how our actions influence things around us.
  • Perspectives. What you see is affected by your "lens." This lens is made up of your language and distinctions. It can also reflect your personal or organizational bias. Every lens has its own distinct qualities and blind spots. Each one gives you a particular point of view.

How Does Systems Thinking Compare to Design Thinking?

Design thinking and systems thinking are similar to a mental model. They both aim to solve problems. Systems thinking takes a more holistic approach than design thinking. Design thinking tends to focus on the product itself. It can be useful for designers and engineers. It might help them create something new and innovative.

On the other hand, systems thinking is more helpful for people who don't need to innovate. Businesses dealing with customer service issues, marketing strategies or production problems might find systems thinking most beneficial. They can gain insights on how they can improve their processes and operations.

Systems Thinking Can Help You Better Understand Your Actions

You can practice systems thinking at home. Consider what kind of impact you make on the world. Systems thinking can help you to get in touch with your inner self. It can also help you to identify opportunities for improvement in your life. For example, if something about your daily routine causes frustration, think about how it begins and ends. Think about how it affects you, others and the environment. What would happen if any one of these things changed?

How to Practice Systems Thinking in Your Business?

Businesses can use systems thinking to make better decisions. They can also use it to improve their business performance and customer experiences. Here are some specific ways:

1. Application of Systems Thinking During the Business Planning Process

Most businesses apply the scientific method to develop new products or services. The scientific method is a way of understanding how something works by testing it. A business might test a new product or service with customers before launching it and making it available to the general public.

2. Identify Opportunities for Improvement

Businesses can use systems thinking to identify potential opportunities for improvement. They can ask themselves probing questions to create feedback loops:

  • What processes could we improve?
  • How could we make things better?
  • What would happen if we changed a specific part of our process?

3. Identify Opportunities for Innovation

Systems thinking can help businesses innovate. Consider how you might design a new chair. You would probably identify the need first (e.g., an office worker needs a place to sit). The next step is to think about ways to fulfill this need. You might decide that products already in existence will not work and develop a unique solution. The final step is to implement your new design and test it with customers. That's the scientific method in action.

4. Monitor Your Business Processes

Businesses can use systems thinking to monitor their processes. They can check things like quality, time, cost and resources. They might also consider any negative impact these processes have on their employees or the environment.

5. Assess Performance of Employees

Employees can use systems thinking to assess their own performance. They can ask themselves these questions:

  • What are my responsibilities?
  • How well am I performing them?
  • How does what I do contribute to my company's goals?
  • What can I do better next time?

Tools and Software You Can Use to Implement Systems Thinking in the Workplace

There are many different systems thinking tools and software on the market today. These tools help with different functions and some focus on specific areas like quality management.

Let's take a look at some of the most helpful tools.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a process that helps businesses improve their operations. It involves taking measurements, analyzing data and making decisions based on this information. Six Sigma includes several tools such as critical to quality (CTQ) analysis, design of experiments (DOE), Poka Yoke, and Taguchi methods.

Actionable Agile

This software provides support in the form of documentation, videos and guides. It helps businesses to understand agile concepts like Scrum, Kanban, XP and Lean. This software also provides real-world examples that illustrate how you can use these methods in your organization.


You can use a whiteboard to visually map out your systems thinking strategy. This will help you to identify the relationships between different parts of your business. This is crucial for success with systems thinking. A whiteboard can also be used as a communication tool. You can draw your strategy, show it to the relevant stakeholders and get their input.

Weekly Productivity Meetings

Meetings can get a bad reputation. They're still extremely important for keeping employees accountable and moving forward. Weekly productivity meetings with your team can help you to establish systems thinking as a company culture. Use these meetings as a way to review the previous week and set new goals for the upcoming one. The key here is to keep them short and concise. Workplace meetings often drag on without a defined goal. Try to keep this to 15 minutes and always end every meeting with a clearly defined task for the upcoming week.

What is the Opposite of Systems Thinking?

The opposite of systems thinking would be one-dimensional thinking. This type of thinking focuses on only one aspect, like cost or time. One dimensional thinking will often overlook the effects that these changes will have on other parts of the business process.

One dimensional thinking can still be useful for problem-solving. It is less likely to help you devise innovative new solutions that offer significant benefits for your company.

Key Takeaways

Systems thinking is a process that can help businesses innovate, monitor their processes and assess the performance of employees. It also helps with making decisions about how to improve certain parts of your business process.

This article has provided you with an overview of systems thinking in the workplace. We also discussed tools for implementing it into your own organization. We hope this information will be helpful!

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