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In systems thinking, nothing is fundamental. Some things, however, are less equal than others...

These are (what I believe to be) three tenets of system thinking. I'm sure that they're wrong in some important respect. But then I never expect to get things right first thime.

One - the behaviour of a complex system (such as a company or an organisation) doesn't depend on what each part (qua person) is doing, but on how each part (qua person) is interacting with the rest (of the people in the organisation).

Or in other words, it's the whole that's explanatory, not the parts.

Two - to understand a system (company or organisation) we need to understand how it fits into the larger system (qua organisation or network) of which it is a part.

Or in other words, how is the company placed in its market, cultural context or economic climate?

Three - what we call the parts need not be taken as primary. In fact, how we define the parts is fundamentally a matter of perspective and purpose, and not something intrinsic in the nature of the real thing we are interested in.

Or in other words, a company may be understood as composed of discrete single agents, or it maybe understood as a single network of agent assemblies, or it may be understood as somewhere in between.

One more time - what is systems thinking?
Systems thinking is a way of looking at the world whereby synthesis - not analysis - is the favoured intellectual probe.

This means that system thinking seeks understanding of a given pattern of relationship (or "thing", more crudely construed) by looking at how that system interacts within a wider system of other networks in which the individual network is embedded.

On the face of it, this sounds counter-intuitive, downright odd, and strangely bloody obvious. And it is strange: all of our perceptual hardware (eyes, and other visual biology in the brain) is geared up for analysis. Breaking up the hugely complex world into manageable chunks so we can deal with it is what they evolved to do. Most of our schooling and other education is based upon the primacy of analysis. Think of all the phrases that purport to reflect the act of making something simpler: we seek to "get back to basics"; we "break something down" to understand it; we seek "basic building blocks"; we believe we have understood something when we can categorise it, and so on.

But how then do you generate understanding by going up - to a larger picture - instead of down - to smaller bits? Suggesting that greater understanding can be achieved by making things bigger rather than smaller often meets with baffled or hostile rejection.

But - and here we’re back to networks - systems are really nothing but networks of relationship. So what we’re talking about is networks of relationship at lots of different levels of scale.

Because - let’s face it - everything is a network, in the end.

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