Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

Mastering systems thinking in practice
Mastering systems thinking in practice

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

1 Simplifying complexity

I recall a story (told by a marketing person) about a group of professionals, each given a barometer and asked to find the height of a church tower. The physicist, who remembered that air pressure changes with height, took the barometer reading at the bottom and at the top of the tower to calculate the height. The engineer dropped the barometer and timed its descent to the ground to work out the tower’s height. The architect lowered the barometer on a piece of string till it touched the ground and measured the string. The surveyor measured the shadow cast by the upright barometer and by the tower and used the ratio so found to calculate the tower’s height. The marketing person went to the Sexton and said ‘If you tell me the height of the tower, I will give you this barometer’.

The story illustrates two important points. Firstly, as I noted above, that people and their viewpoints are part of the situations we normally have to deal with. Secondly, there is more than one way to handle any situation. I have also noted that systems thinking can simplify complexity by taking multiple partial views. That needs some explanation.

A cartoon of three scientists looking through a telescope.
Figure 1A metaphorical account of the way theories (planet on telescope) determine what we see in the world. The mischief makers represent what happens implicitly with any theory.