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Applied Systems Thinking Skills

A practical and thought-provoking workshop which reveals an essential thinking paradigm for the Knowledge Age

Course Overview

Knowledge workers need a wide range of thinking and problem solving skills in their work.  The prevailing problem-solving approach that analysts of all types employ is analytical thinking.  But analytical thinking seeks a ‘best’ solution and an analytical approach is reductionist, where the solution is found by decomposing a problem space into smaller components that are more easily understood and dealt with.  Many tools and techniques, ranging from process mapping and use case modelling to work breakdown structures and architecture diagrams, follow this paradigm. 

The world of systems thinking follows a different paradigm.  Instead of being solution-focused, it is problem-oriented.  Systems thinkers are preoccupied with seeing the big picture, exploring boundaries of complex systems and understanding the relationships between the components in a ‘system’ and between the system and its environment. 

An analytical thinker may stand accused of ‘not seeing the wood for the trees’, creating solutions that have unintended negative consequences or that only deliver short term benefits.  Systems thinking is equipped to explore complex problems with many factors, and identifies multi-faceted solutions that deliver long term benefits. 

Systems’ thinking is the process of understanding how subcomponents of a whole influence one another within the context of that whole so that resolving problems within one part of a system does not negatively impact the performance of other areas or create unforeseen consequences. 

Systems Thinking is a vital skill for any person who is called upon to understand, solve or model complex business problems.

Course Objectives:

  • Understand what a system is, learn how to make systems visible, how to work with systems, how to converse in systems language and how to apply systems thinking.
  • Learning to see the world through a ‘systems’ lens
  • Thinking with your whole brain: combining creative, analytical, critical and systems thinking processes in your problem solving approach
  • Learn to use systems thinking tools like causal loop diagrams and behavior-over-time models
  • Understand the consequences of not using Systems Thinking, such as real-world examples of the Law of Unintended Consequences and the Tragedy of the Commons, and find out how to avoid these
  • Explore system archetypes and other problem solving patterns and learn how recognising them can avoid problems and speed up problem solving efforts
  • Gain insight into how a system thinking approach can improve the way you perform your work

Course Delivery

Systems thinking is challenging, but great fun. In this highly practical and hands-on workshop, delegates will develop a deeper understanding of systems thinking, and through games, role-plays, practical exercises, and drills, begin to learn the tools, techniques and habits of professional systems thinkers

Course Assessment

There is no formal assessment on this course.  To receive a certificate of attendance, delegates need to attend the full day and actively participate in exercises, feedback and discussions

Course Content

System Concepts

  • What is a system: characteristics, concept, causality and complexity
  • Wicked problems and wicked messes
  • Social messes
Systems Thinking
  • Systems vs analytical thinking
  • Uses of systems thinking
  • Key perspective shifts
  • Closed loops
  • Thinking over time
  • Dynamic thinking
  • Thinking in pictures
The Iceberg Model for Systems Thinking
Systems thinking iceberg
Problem solving horizon and approaches
Action modes
System Thinking Tools and Techniques
  • Behaviour over time graphs
  • Causal loop diagrams
Using Systems Thinking to Solve Problems
  • Focusing interventions
  • Unintended consequences
  • The power of small changes
Exploring Archetypes
Learning to Think in Systems

Course Prerequisites

There are no strict pre-requisites: we do not exclude any delegate who is strongly motivated to do the course. However, to get the most value out of the course, it is recommended that delegates have the following:

  • Good computer literacy, especially in working with systems, processes or applications that use business information, especially in a role that was not just ‘user’
  • Good business experience, especially in work that involves making decisions, planning, analysing or using business information
It is recommended that delegates come with a firm problem in hand. It would be of interest to anyone who wishes to gain a new perspective, a specialized language and a set of tools which can be used to address the most stubborn problems in everyday life and work
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