Systems thinking sounds great, but how do you actually do it?

  • Due Jun 16, 2014 at 9:59pm
  • Points 1
  • Questions 1
  • Time Limit None


Systems thinking is my choice when I'm asked to teach just one lesson sustainability. Thinking in systems allows you to see the big picture and how the problem you are trying to solve is related to other issues. Systems thinking can be both an overarching mindset and a practical tool. It requires you to keep an open mind and sometimes may seem counterintuitive. In this module you will experience systems thinking and relate it to sustainable energy; and practice applying systems thinking principles.

leverage point.jpgWe can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. - Einstein

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root. - Thoreau


Systems Thinking

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Reading & Video

Read and study this concept map, which shows some common skills associated with systems thinking. 

Read this short article on Systems Thinking in Innovative Efforts, which explains how seeing the bigger picture can increase the benefits of innovation.

Finally, watch this video to explore a basic systems thinking concept. 

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For more information

If you want to learn more about systems thinking theory, Donella Meadows' book Thinking in Systems is a great place to start. Her article on Leverage Points can help you identify places to intervene in a system for maximum impact. And here is a framework for applying systems thinking to sustainable design

You can also help yourself apply systems thinking to an issue by asking the following questions.

  • What is your vision for how things might be in the future related to this issue?
  • What system(s) and parts of the system(s) are at work in this issue?
  • What are the relationships among system components?
  • How does the issue with which you are dealing reveal trouble in the system?
  • How are you a part of the system(s)? How do your behaviors affect the system and how does the system affect your behaviors?
  • How do you want to influence the system(s) and parts of the system(s)?
  • What experience, skills, relationships, and resources do you bring to this effort?
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