11 Key Principles of Systems Thinking



Here are 11 key principles of systems thinking. For a fantastic introduction, please check out this article by our CEO. 

  1. Everything is interconnected: We live on a closed ecosystem called planet Earth where everything is connected to everything else. Otherwise, it ceases to survive and thrive.

  2. The easy way out often leads back in: If the solution were easy then it should have already been found.

  3. Today’s problems are yesterday's solutions: We need to make sure we don't accidentally create tomorrow problems through today's solutions.

  4. There is no blame in complex systems: Everything is interconnected. Thus, it's impossible to ever find one culprit for a problem. Systems have both the issue and the solution embedded within.

  5. Parts are elements of a complex whole: Everything is part of something else; there are no isolated elements in a complex system.

  6. There are no simple solutions to complex problems: We need to embrace complexity in order to truly address complex issues. Otherwise, we just deflect the problem to somewhere else in the system.

  7. Small, well-placed interventions can have big impacts: A well-designed, small intervention can result in significant and enduring systems change if it is in the right place – this is called a leverage point.

  8. Humans make linear systems – nature makes circular ones: We can learn to create regenerative products and services through understanding nature's design principles.

  9. Time changes complexity: Over time, things naturally get more complex. Simplicity and efficiency are very different things, yet we always think we can oversimplify complexity or reduce it down to the sum of its parts.

  10. ‘Failure’ is discovery in disguise: If there is no blame, then there is always an opportunity to discover through failure.

  11. Cause and effect are not related in time nor space: There is a mismatch and often a delay in the relationship between the cause of a problem in complex systems and the result (or symptom) appearing obvious.


References drawn on for the development of this list: