Key Thinkers in the Development of Applied Systems Thinking

We are largely devoted to doing the wrong thing wrong
— Dr. Russell Ackoff
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There have been many prominent systems thinkers who have helped to develop and evolve the tools, techniques, and approaches used today to explore and solve complex problems through the deeper understanding of systems complexity, dynamics, and thinking.

Professor Jay Foster from MIT established the field of System Dynamics in 1956 in response to the need to have better ways of testing and understanding social and engineering systems. He provides the following definition:

“Systems thinking is a set of synergistic analytic skills used to improve the capability of identifying and understanding systems, predicting their behaviors, and devising modifications to them in order to produce desired effects. These skills work together as a system”. - Arnold & Wade, 2016

In particular, writings from Russell Ackoff (1973), Draper Kauffman (1980), Peter Senge (2006), Donella Meadows (2008), Fritjof Capra (1988), Peter Checkland (1986), and Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1968) have all made powerful contributions to Applied Systems Thinking.

There is a lot of content available on Systems Thinking, but to get you started, this Systems Thinking 101 by Kauffman is a fantastic introduction. This article is also a useful introduction to Systems Thinking. You can take an introductory course or advanced training online through our educational initiative the UnSchool.  We also run in-house workshops on systems thinkingcontact us to find out more.  

The iceberg model used widely in Systems Thinking was proposed by Cavana and Maani, put forward in this paper.

The iceberg model used widely in Systems Thinking was proposed by Cavana and Maani, put forward in this paper.

The power of Systems Thinking is in its ability to expand rather than reduce thinking, allowing for an intimate understanding of the operational process of dynamic and interconnected systems in the world around us.  We need to move from surface to substance exploration.