|The Fifth Discipline, "A Shift of Mind, Seeing the World Anew", pg 68 Peter Senge
Systems thinking is the cornerstone that underlies all of the five learning disciplines of this book. All
are concerned with a shift of mind (hence learning) from seeing parts (we assume the part is the
whole to themselves) to seeing one as part of the whole, from seeing people as helpless reactors to
seeing to seeing them as active participants in shaping the reality for themselves and beyond, from
reacting to the present to generating (creating) the future. Without systems thinking, there is
neither the incentive nor the means to integrate the learning disciplines once they come into practice.
As the fifth discipline, systems thinking is the cornerstone of how learning organizations think about
their world (1.00 / 4:53). E.g. the roots of the arms race lie not in rival political ideologies, nor in
nuclear arms, but in a way of thinking both sides have shared. From each standpoint,the other has
been the aggressor and their own action to expand nuclear arms has been a defensive response
(linear cause-effect) to the threat posed by the other. But the two straight lines form a circle. The
two nations individual “linear” or non-systemic viewpoints interact to create a “system”, a set of
variables that influence one another.
Interestingly both sides failed for years to adopt a true systems view, despite an
abundance of “systems analysts”. Why then have these supposed tools for dealing with
complexity not empowered us to escape the illogic of the arms race?
The answer lies in the same reason that sophisticated tools of forecasting and business analysis, as
well as elegant strategic plans, focus on reacting to ecenrs and therefore usually fail to produce
dramatic breakthroughs in managing an organization / business. They are designed to handle the
sort of complexity in which there are many variables and view causality in a linear fashion: that is
referred to in this work as detail complexity.
But there are actually two types of complexity. The second type is referred to as dynamic
complexity, situations where cause and effect are subtle (the causes are not obvious) and it has
inherently entrenched its vicious (circular) nature (of cause and effect) within the 'system'. The
structure now reinforces itself at an increasing rate creating a trail of pattern or behaviour of the
event over time. Therefore we say, its impact has become systemic - it affects all and sundry -
collectively and individually. Yet our response to such a system continues to be linear i.e. we
attempt to put out the fire without first understanding what is causing it (the gaspipe and water pipe
metaphors that I use in my workshops). It is no longer effective as we are soon caught in a catch-
22 (no-win or double-bind). We have no choice as we see the fire becoming larger yet risk being
sucked in by the verocious appetite it has for resources to put it out.
Unfortunately conventional forecasting, analysis, planning and action implementation methods are
not equipped to deal with dynamic (circular) complexity. Mixing many ingredients in a step, or
following a set of instructions to assemble a machine or taking inventory in a discount retail store
involves detail complexity. But none of these situations is especially complex dynamically.
"By seeing wholes we learn to foster health," Peter Senge. To do so, systems thinking offers a
language with system archetypes that begins by restructuring how we think. It is a set of general
principles distilled over the course of the twentieth century spanning diverse fields such as physical
and social sciences, engineering and management. It is also a set of specific tools and
techniques, originating in two threads: in “feedback: concepts of cybernetics and in “servo-
mechanism” engineering theory dating back to the nineteenth century. It is a sensibility for the
subtle interconnectedness that gives living systems their unique character. It is the antidote to
this sense of helplessness that many feel as we enter the “age of interdependence”.
works are far more practical and successful than our attempts at efficiency. Such systems are
not trying to reduce inputs in order to maximize outputs.
They slosh around in the mess, involve many individuals, encourage discoveries, and move
quickly past mistakes. They are learning all the time, engaging everyone in finding what
works. The system succeeds because it involves many tinkerers focused on figuring out what
Could we begin to appreciate that this kind of tinkering is efficient?"
-- Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers from A Simpler Way