Mastering systems thinking in practice
Mastering systems thinking in practice

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Mastering systems thinking in practice

Week 2: Systems thinking and complexity


In Week 1 it was claimed that systems thinking respects complexity and makes that complexity manageable by taking a broader perspective. This week you will explore these claims in more detail by focusing on the differences between messy and difficult situations, hard and soft complexity and systemic (holistic) and systematic (reductionist) thinking and practice that shape how we perceive and react to complexity in the situations we face. In essence any situation will consist of complicatedness (entities infinitely joined), complexity (people with perspectives on the entities and how they join together), and conflict (contrasting viewpoints/perspectives on situations). Systems thinking is about distinguishing a system of interest within messy and complex situations. As with Week 1 there are several reflective activities which will enrich your learning if you are able to do them fully.

First, watch the following video which examines what it means to understand the world in which we live.

Download this video clip.Video player: mstp_1_video_week2_intro.mp4
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By the end of this course, you will have a greater understanding of being a systems practitioner having to deal with complexity. But what makes it possible to say, I understand something about the world in which I live? What is it that we would need to have observed in others or in ourselves for us to say that understanding systems practice had occurred?
In the language of this cartoon, I'm asking you to envisage the general idea of a practitioner as someone who engages with some messy real-world situation using selected approaches. Systems practice, modelled in this next cartoon, is a particular form of the general model of practice shown in the first cartoon. An effective systems practitioner is able to use systems approaches in managing complexity in the context of a perceived real-world situation.
I'm not overly concerned with other approaches to practice and will not be making any extravagant claims that a systems approach is better than other forms of practice. I will, however, develop arguments that enable me to make two claims-- firstly, systems practice has particular characteristics that make it qualitatively different to other forms of practice; and secondly, an effective systems practitioner can call on a greater variety of options for doing something about complex real-world situations than other practitioners do. These are important claims. They will structure most of the arguments made in the rest of the course, as you'll begin to explore this week.
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By the end of this week, you should be able to:

  • explain the notion of perceived complexity within situations through the frames of messes and difficulties, emotional and rational reactions and systemic and systematic thinking.
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