Systems Thinking: Common Ground or Untapped Territory?

Pamela Buckle Henning, Wan-Ching Chen

Abstract


At gatherings of the International Society for the Systems Sciences, the term “systems thinking” elicits understanding nods and smiles. Such thinking, it would appear, is a way this largely academic community works “all together now,” thinking in a systemic way about our varied areas of inquiry. But how common is this understanding among us? And are its benefits commonly understood? Assessing the degree to which we work “all together now” requires recognizing the different assumptions we make about what systems thinking means. So powerful is systems thinking’s capacity to holistically address 21st-century problems that much has been written about it for laypeople. This article presents a content analysis of 14 popular books on systems thinking, revealing that ISSS members’ understanding nods and smiles belie a plurality of meanings assigned to systems thinking and claims about what it means to be a systems thinker.

What is held in common within the ISSS community is the conviction that the health of human systems can be supported by systems thinking. We argue that the benefits go further: that the psychological health of humanity itself depends upon helping people learn how to be systems-intelligent thinkers. At present, the community of systems thinkers has made only a start at this important endeavour.

Keywords


systems thinking, mental health

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