Systems Thinking Schools and Approaches

System Dynamics & Systems Thinking
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geoff elliott
Management Consultant, United Kingdom

Systems Thinking Schools and Approaches

- PLANNING SCHOOL - systems thinking is a holistic approach to planning complex systems. Pioneers of this approach include C. W. Churchman and russ ackoff.
- SYSTEM DYNAMICS SCHOOL - Systems thinking looks at the cause-effect and feedback loops that drive complex systems. Pioneers of this approach include Jay Forrester, Donella Meadows.
Organizational cybernetics school
- STAFFORD BEER'S VIABLE SYSTEMS MODEL (VSM) which applies systems thinking to organizational design, focusing on the management of variety to achieve long-term viability. Builds on the work of Norbert Wiener and Ross Ashby .
- ORGANIZATION LEARNING SCHOOL - Popularized by Peter Senge, largely based on earlier work by Chris Argyris and Donald Schon, but also drawing on the work of Forrester.
- SOFT SYSTEM/SENSEMAKING SCHOOL - Sees systems as mental constructs rather than physical constructs and systems thinking as an ongoing process of enquiry to improve shared understanding. The Pioneers include Peter Checkland and Brian Wilson. Sir Geoffrey Vickers and Karl Weick are also associated with this type of approach.
- COMPLEXITY AND CHAOS SCHOOL - System thinking explores the emergent properties of complex systems. Approaches could include Robert Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ) and Snowden's participatory method based on the Cynefin model.
- QUALITY AND SERVICE DESIGN SCHOOL - Largely based on earlier work by Walter Shewart and Edwards Deming. Linked to the Statistical Process Control techniques (sometimes known as Six Sigma).
- OTHER APPROACHES: System Dynamics, SAST, Soft Systems Methodology (SSM), Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), Complexity theory, Fifth Discipline, Critical Systems Thinking (Heuristics), Organisational cybernetics, Critical systems practice, Total systems intervention, Post modern systems thinking, Team synergy, Interactive planning, Hard systems thinking (systems engineering and structured IT methods, Six and Lean Sigma), SODA process, Strategic Choice, Robustness Analysis, Drama Theory, Dialogue Mapping, Interpretative Structural Modelling/Interactive Planning, Socio Technical Approach.


Ivan Kohlinsky
Management Consultant, United Kingdom

Can Systems Thinking Be Learned or is it a Mindset?

Your list is extensive and covers what I would call (probably inaccurately) processes, methodologies... Sign up

Augusto Carreira
Partner, Portugal

System Thinking is not a Natural Act

@Ivan Kohlinsky: I would like to share this MIT webinar, entitled "Why Systems Thinking is Not a Nat... Sign up

Professor, Ukraine

System Thinking Schools and Approaches

We use different schools of systems thinking depending on the goals of our research. But anyway, any... Sign up


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