Systems Thinking: Understanding the Complexity of Our World

Systems Thinking is based on the field of system dynamics, founded  by MIT professor Jay Forrester in 1956. The idea behind systems thinking is to be used when analyzing change, interventions and solutions to consider how the component being under study is interacting with other components in the system.

So for example, if we’re trying to introduce new roles in the organization or solve a social issue or introduce new projects and initiatives in the community or organization…we need to consider how those interact with other parts of the system. Many of the traditional methods take a sequential approach to analyzing issues, systems think
This leads us to actually ask, what is a system? Well in a nutshell, a system is a group related, interdependent, bound and related components that interact together. So the computer you’re using is a system, organization you work in is a system, the city you’re in is a system, the country you’re in is a system. In this context, systems can be a “component” of a bigger system. Thus our world is constantly interconnected and has multiple influences from the broader system on the smaller ones, and vice versa.ing on the other hand focuses on the big picture and how are it’s components interacting thus a more complex and iterative approach.

For example, the company’s “system” is made up of:

  • Policies & Procedures
  • Human Capital
  • Facilities & Equipment

So to introduce a change in one of those 3 elements, whether it’s team performance or overall cost reduction, there will be an impact on the other 2 elements and thus in many organizations instilling some change in one element will end up leading to un-expected changes in the other and thus the “original” problem would be resolved, but other problems would’ve popped up.

The key benefit of Systems Thinking is that it provides a better way for analysis and for solving most complex problems that are plaguing our world from governments to communities to business and so on.

Systems Thinking is being used in very wide spectrum of fields today and this proves that the people are becoming aware of it’s value. Some of the fields where it is being utilized are:

  • Engineering & Construction
  • Management & Consultancy
  • Environment
  • Health & Medical Services
  • Manufacturing & Industry
  • Business Analysis
  • Project Management
  • Policy Making & Governance
  • Community Development
  • Computing & Information Technology
  • Sustainable Development

In conclusion, with the increasing complexity of our world today it becoming a necessity to be able to see the “big picture” and understand the systems we are working with or else our proposed solutions and improvements will fail to reach the impact expected with long lasting sustainability.

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Lessons Learned from Working in IT

In the following article I will try to extract the most notable lessons learned from my experience in the IT field for the past few years.

A quick overview for my dear readers who don’t know my background, I studied Computer Science(CMPS) at the American University of Beirut(AUB) while working at the Computing and Networking Services (CNS) on campus. Following my graduation I worked in IT development at a banking/financial institution while doing some free lance web-development and IT related consultancies.

Overall, I had my share of working on both hardware and software…and the lessons learned all fit in together and I will be pinpointing them as briefly as possible  in the below lines:

  • No problem is too complex. The key to success in this is to decompose the complexity of the issue into smaller manageable parts. Afterwards one only needs to resolve a group of simpler issues that fit in together.
  • Automation is the key to ongoing growth and sustainability of many companies. This is due to the fact that any requested behavior can be mimicked and coded accordingly, with as many exceptions as needed, replacing the need for human interaction with machines.
  • Technology is advancing faster than we expect. The rate at which technology is evolving allows for sophisticated solutions to be designed and implemented with growing speed and ease. What was nearly impossible 10 years ago can be developed in a week today.
  • IT team leaders can make or break the company. One of the keys for successful IT teams is a team leader who knows how to leverage the expertise of the team, provide enough autonomy while still closely overseeing the work.
  • Programming in multiple languages is becoming a must. Knowing one programming language …in our times…is no longer enough to keep with the pace of advancement and to develop the solutions the best fit the needs.
  • GUI is king. Graphical user interface and packaging became as important as the actual functionality of the solutions requested as users demand the simplest and most intuitive tools they can have. People want eye-candy with minimal intellectual effort to use the applications.

In this context, and after checking the above with some of my friends and colleagues, the same lessons apply in most fields and I will definitely be taking those lessons with me in my consultancy and management work from now on.

I hope they help you in one way or another in your career…and I’m open for your comments and suggestions as always. 🙂