Digitalization, online connectivity and the flood of information result in an increasingly complex, ever changing and faster paced world. In personal life this is especially visible through the mass of information to be processed, the speed of communication and online social networking. In professional life, this trend becomes prevalent throughout industries, geographies and cultures and has reached almost everybody (at a different level though). Information age and digitalization not only bring along process effectiveness, productivity and speed, it also results in increased complexity. Complexity not only due to the amout of data and speed, but due to various involved components, sometimes visible but often not very obvious and “hidden” in multiple layers of involved elements. While everything works smooth everything might look “simple”, if something goes wrong, or requires analysis or it requires to understand details, or inputs/processes/outputs it might quickly turn extremely complex.
System Thinking Theory
Often times, traditional models of analysis trying to understand cause and effect of individual elements/constituent parts fail in such environments. System Thinking theory in contrast provides a framework to better approach such situations by looking at the “big picture”: by focusing on the connectivity and interaction of a studied element with the other constituents of the system, how the system works and evolves/changes over time and within the context of the larger system.
System Thinking Practices
Some key principles applied in system thinking practice are as follows:
- The whole is bigger than the sum of the individual parts
- Systems need to be seen in the context of their environment
- Patterns need to be identified in terms of elements and over time
- Understanding what system elements do leads to understanding the purpose why they do
Source: https://twitter.com/nevadasf/status/1188289483235459072, tweet from Nevada Lane
System Thinking Theory in Relation to Information Systems
Information systems being composed of multiple elements (hardware, software, people, processes and data) resulting in complex and dynamic environments, required a more holistic view rather than analysis of individual elements. Information systems environments are usually “connecting” two worlds: a technical world, and a business/process world, each of them having their “parties” in the team. These two, are usually not fully “connected”, often there are barriers communicating with each other in the same “language”, which results in conflict. Being able to bridge those barriers (technical view/business view) it requires understanding of each other by being able to visualize the involved elements, what each element contributes to the whole process, the interdependencies, the timely relations, etc. Being able to analyze individual elements, but still connecting to the bigger picture is the only way to get everyone working towards the same direction in an aligned understanding towards the same goal to have a successful “system” in place. Complexity even increases as a system is never static, never stays at the stage it was created – it dynamically evolves over time, in digital environment usually at a rapid pace. This constant evolution and change is being taken into account in System Thinking.
TechTarget (2020). system thinking. Retrieved March 27th, 2021 from https://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/systems-thinking
ManagementHelp (2020). What is System Thinking? Retrieved March 26th, 2021 from https://managementhelp.org/misc/defn-systemsthinking.pdf
bigthinking.io (2020). 6 Principles of Systems Thinking. Retrieved March 25th, 2021 from