Whether you are in business or the non-profit sector, systems thinking is essential to confronting the complex problems faced by organizations today. In my research as a graduate student of Information Design and Strategy at Northwestern University I’ve come across some excellent writing on the topic that sheds light on the importance of Systems Thinking.
In the article “Design Thinking Needs to Think Bigger” on fastcodesign.com, designer and venture capitalist Steve Vassallo discusses how much things have changed since the design thinking revolution began. In our “massively complex and interconnected world” it becomes essential for people to understand their role in larger systems in order to effect change. When we “see” what appears to be a system, we’re often just looking at the tip of the iceberg and fooled to think that the phenomena exists on its own. By understanding the larger system beneath the surface, designers can spend valuable time working on solutions in the most critical areas that can affect the whole system. Steve takes us through a great overview of Systems Thinking and how to understand its implications in design and beyond.
It’s not just in the realm of design that systems thinking is important, in Harvard Business Review, Vanessa Kirsch, Jim Bildner, and Jeff Walker write an excellent article called, “Why Social Ventures Need Systems Thinking.” They discuss how social ventures must use Systems Thinking to find “which levers to pull” to effect social change in a world of complex connections. When innovations are introduced to complex legacy systems, it takes a broad view to understand their impact. Systems Thinking highlights the areas where introducing innovations can cause a domino effect in the whole system.
As I explore the topic of Systems Thinking in my graduate research at Northwestern University, it becomes increasingly clear how important and applicable it will be to the challenges of the 21st century. I’ve made a list of 3 reasons you should be thinking about systems thinking and the ways you might apply them right away:
- Design for Systems – Designers can’t design effective solutions if they don’t understand where the problem fits in the system as a whole.
- Find the Levers – The events and circumstances around us are the effects, we must look at the larger system to figure out where to take action for maximum change.
- Beware the Iceberg – If you’re looking at a problem, you’re likely only looking at the tip of the iceberg, a deeper dive with Systems Thinking will show what you’re dealing with and where to act.
Next time you’re looking to effect change in your organization or the world at large, remember that Systems Thinking is the key to understanding which actions will be most efficient in achieving your goals.
Matt Grossman is an experienced professional multi-media creator and graduate student of Information Design and Strategy at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies pursuing a specialization in Content Strategy.