Systems Thinking: Modeling Problem Systems
Business and other human endeavors are also systems. They, too, are bound by invisible fabrics of interrelated actions, which often take years to fully play out their effects on each other.
-- Peter Senge ( 1990, p. 7)
In this chapter systems thinking is presented as a meta-framework for configuring in a consistent manner insights about the causes of problems, insights derived from different sources and rooted in diverse theoretical foundations. We interest ourselves here in how different factors work together to cause and exacerbate organizational problems over short and long periods of time. Because of its emphasis on essential factors and relationships, systems thinking helps us to distinguish the fundamental elements of a problem from the confusion of absorbing but nonessential details. In the following pages a number of elements fundamental to this way of thinking are explained and illustrated.
The term meta-framework is used in discussing systems thinking because, in contrast to the theoretical frameworks discussed earlier in this book, systems thinking is content free. It can be applied to any field of study and any situation. Its focus is on how people and their organizations respond to physical realities and to the actions of other people and organizations in ways that affect the development of opportunities and problems. People and organizations help create and become parts of feedback systems out of which problems develop and opportunities arise.
Put in its simplest terms, problem solving is about figuring out the causes of problems and then doing something to temper those causes. When a problematic effect occurs immediately after its cause, such as a bloody nose following a punch to the face, the analysis is straightforward and obvious. However, as effects occur