A Guide To Systems Thinking

Overview of Systems Thinking

The brief:

The Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) needed a document that explained the principles of systems thinking and how it related to scientific endeavour. It was to be a useful reference for ministers and advisors in their discussions with DPI scientists lobbying to apply systems thinking to DPI science.

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The rise of systems thinking and the limitations of reductionism

Reductionism was originally conceived by Descartes in 1637 and so far it has served us well. Descartes believed that the world is a machine and the best way to understand it is by taking it apart, studying the separate components and then putting them back together to see the larger picture. That is reductionism.

Reductionism has given us many great scientific discoveries and major technological breakthroughs, but it has its limitations. Basically, because reductionism breaks down a problem into its component parts, any knowledge that is uncovered is pursued in relative isolation.

As a response to the complexities of our times, reputed scientists, philosophers and historians of science as well as practitioners in many different disciplines are calling for a new paradigm of inquiry known as ‘systems thinking’.