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Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking
Assembled by Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD | Applies to nonprofits and for-profits unless noted
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Categories of information include

(listed in the order of the five disciplines presented in Senge's "Fifth Discipline")
1. Systems Thinking
2. Personal Mastery
3. Mental Models
4. Building Shared Vision
5. Team Learning

Some Applications of Systems Theory

Inquiry and Advocacy
Chaos Theory
Links to Additional Resources
Related Library Links
On-Line Discussion Groups

Very basically, systems thinking is a way of helping a person to view the world, including its
organizations, from a broad perspective that includes structures, patterns and events, rather
than just the events themselves. This broad view helps one to identify the real causes of issues
and know where to work to address them. There are certain principles of systems thinking
that guide one to see this broad view. There is also an increasing amount of information and
tools in this regard. Systems thinking is the basis for the approach to developing the learning
organization. Peter Senge's book, The Fifth Discipline (Doubleday, 1990), and its companion,
The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook (Doubleday, 1994), are seminal works about systems thinking
and its application to organizations. Senge identifies five "component technologies" that are
the basis for building learning organizations (and systems thinking in individuals). The
following links are organized according to the five disciplines, e.g., Personal Mastery, Mental
Models, etc.

Systems Thinking
The reader should first read the following several links about systems thinking to get a basic
understanding of the approach. This understanding may help the reader to integrate the
information in subsequent categories, e.g., Personal Mastery, Mental Models, etc. Note that
information at the links presented under each category may not be complete and in
accordance with what Senge would describe for that component technology, e.g., as Personal
Mastery, Mental Models, etc. However, his categories were quite broad and the links'
information will certainly contribute to the reader's efforts in learning each "component
technology" if desired.
Systems Thinking: A Requirement for all Employees
Introduction to Systems Thinking
Overview of Systems Thinking
Systems Thinking About Thinking (1 of 3) [2/3/2002 4:29:56 PM]

Systems Thinking

Business Organizations as Systems

Learning Organization (includes broad, useful overview of systems thinking)
Tour of Organizational Learning and Systems Thinking Concepts
Language of Systems Thinking: "Links" and "Loops"
Systems Thinking and Organizations -- An Initial Inquiry into the Subject

Personal Mastery
Senge describes personal mastery as "continually clarifying and deepening our personal
vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively"
(The Fifth Discipline, Doubleday, 1990, p. 7).
Overview of Personal Mastery
Personal Wellness
Personal Development

Mental Models
Senge explains "Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even
pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action" (p.
Inquiry and Advocacy are two primary techniques to identify and reframe mental models
Mental Models
Mental Model Musings
Overview of Mental Models
Operationalizing Mental Models
Valuing Diversity

Building Shared Vision

Senge notes "If any one idea about leadership has inspired organizations for thousands of
years, it's the capacity to hold a shared picture of the future we seek to create" (p. 9).
Overview of Shared Vision
Developing a Vision
Overview of a Shared Vision

Also see
Appreciative Inquiry
Interviews (exit interviews, by media, for a job, selecting job candidate and research method)
Planning (planning that is carried out well goes a long way toward shared vision)
Non-Verbal Communications

Team Learning
Senge asks "How can a team of committed managers with individual IQs above 120 have a
collective IQ of 63?" (p. 9.).He adds "Team learning is vital because teams, not individuals,
are the fundamental learning unit in modern organizations" (p. 10).
Overview of Teams from Systems Perspective (2 of 3) [2/3/2002 4:29:56 PM]

Systems Thinking

Team Building
Group Performance Management

Some Applications of Systems Theory

Systems Thinking and Management Behavior
Systems Dynamics in Education
Management and Leadership: A Systemic Perspective
Victims of the System or Systems of the Victim

Links to On-Line Resources

Systems Thinking Resources (includes basics and extensive glossary)
Systems Thinking Practice (extensive map with links to systems thinking resources)
Link to Numerous Articles

Related Library Links

Basic Research Methods
Chaos Theory
Continuous Learning
Critical Thinking
Creativity and Innovation
Inquiry and Advocacy
Organizational Learning

On-Line Discussion Groups

ODNET about organization development and change
HRNET about human resources
TRDEV about training and development

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With permission from Carter McNamara, PhD, Copyright 1999
Library and its contents are not to be used to generate profits
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