Systems Thinking Explained

Understanding proceeds from the whole of its parts, not from the parts to the whole as knowledge does." ~ Russell L. Ackoff

What comes to mind when you hear, "systems thinking"? For many it might prompt thoughts of process, procedures, routine, checklists, complexity, bureaucracy, constraints, and maybe even reducing individual initiative. This is not wrong, just incorrect, and incomplete. Think about dominos lined up as in the picture provided. Each domino is part of the system: by working together, each domino has a role to play in ensuring the goal of the system is fulfilled. In this case, if one domino fails in its' individual role to fall into the next, other dominos are impacted. A similar analogy applies to businesses or organizational functions. Human and business systems allow us to reach goals we could not do on our own efficiently and effectively.


A "system" can be defined as a collection of elements or components that are organized for a common purpose. Systems are all around us. Workplaces, families, government, sports teams, businesses, community groups, climate, the internet, relationships all involve systems, often in multiple forms.