Systems Thinking: The Art of Understanding the Dynamics of Systems

By Piero Mella.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Systems Thinking was introduced by Peter Senge in his book The Fifth Discipline (Doubleday, New York, 1990). It is a discipline for seeing wholes, recognizing patterns and interrelationships, and learning how to structure those interrelationships in more effective, efficient ways. Systems Thinking is a discipline in that it proposes:

Systems Thinking, in that it is a discipline, must be learned gradually, with practice, and continually perfected. In his book, Peter Senge presents Systems Thinking in an intuitive way, but he does not provide the logical principles behind it. I believe that the logical structure of this discipline can be summarized in five fundamental rules the systems thinker must follow at all times:

  1. if we wish to understand the world we must be able to see the “trees through the forest”; we must develop the capacity to “zoom” in and out from whole to parts, from systems to components;
  2. we must not limit our observation to what appears constant but “look for that which varies”. Variables – and the “variations” that these undergo over time – are what interests the systems thinker;
  3. if we want to understand reality we must connect the variables which are of interest to us in a chain of causal relations among the connected variables;
  4. we must “link the variables” in order to specify the loops between all those variations, thereby transforming the linear variations into system interactions among the variables;
  5. when we observe the world we must always specify the boundaries of the system we are examining.

Keywords: Systems Thinking, System Dynamics, Leverage effect, Causal Loop Diagrams, Control Systems

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 15, Issue 10, pp.79-88. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 627.259KB).

Prof. Piero Mella

Chair of Business Administration, Department of Management Research, Faculty of Economics, University of Pavia, Pavia, ITALY, Italy

Born in Pavia, graduated in March 1969 with a first class degree in Industrial administration, in 1985 I won a chair as a full professor and lectured in Business Economics and Administration at the Faculty of Economics of Pavia. In 1986 I was elected Head of the Department of Business Research at the University of Pavia. From 1987-88 to 1992-93 I was Dean of the Economics Faculty at the University of Pavia. Since it was founded in 1990 I have been the scientific Director of the Masters in Accounting, Budget and Financial Control in profit organizations, set up by the University of Pavia. In 1997 I became Co-ordinator of the Doctorate in Business Research at the University of Pavia. In 2000 I created the scientific web site My interests also deal in the fields of Complex and Holonic Systems and of Networks. In 1997 I have proposed the Combinatory System Theory, described at the web site:


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