Systems Thinking: What It Is, Characteristics, Principles, Benefits And Examples

Systems thinking: what it is, characteristics, principles, benefits and examples - Principles of systems thinking

From school we are taught to “analyze” what is complex, that is, to break it down into its different parts, because the whole is too “difficult.” By doing so, we end up not only losing the global vision, but also the meaning, meaning and scope of that same element in its context: we observe it as if it were an entity in itself. Thinking systemically, on the other hand, means being interested in the relationship that exists between the elements, in their evolution, in the connections (probable and improbable that they may be); It means moving from the category of the guilty/responsible to the logic of the conditions that have facilitated an event. In this PsychologyFor article we will see more precisely What is systems thinking with some examples, its characteristics and principles, as well as the benefits what’s wrong with it.

What is Systems Thinking?

Systems thinking is a framework that views entities as part of larger, interconnected systems rather than isolated entities. It acknowledges the intricate web of relationships between components within a system and seeks to comprehend the underlying patterns and behaviors that emerge from these interactions. Unlike reductionist approaches that focus on individual parts in isolation, systems thinking emphasizes the wholeness of a system and aims to understand how its various elements interact and influence one another.

Systems thinking is the discipline that studies the causal and retroactive connections between events in order to understand, prevent and influence them at the lowest possible intervention cost. A field of studies aimed at understanding complex dynamic systems (such as humans), developed with the objective, among others, of efficiently guiding interventions and innovation efforts.

In other words, systems thinking is a way of thinking, it is a language for the description and understanding of the forces and interrelationships that shape the behavior of systems. This discipline helps us see how to modify systems more efficiently and act more in tune with the natural processes of the natural and economic world.

He systemic thinking it’s a set of methods and tools that focuses on systems (instead of its parts) as context for:

  • Define and solve complex problems.
  • Promote learning, development and application of more effective solutions.

At their best, systems thinking practices help us:

  • Stop that action that leads us to go from one crisis to another.
  • Think in less fragmented and more integrated ways.
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If you want to know the Types of thinking according to psychology, you will find them in this article. Related to systemic thinking, we find holistic thinking and also systemic psychology. In the following article, you can continue reading about the systemic interactional approach following the functional model of the mind.

In the dynamic landscape of modern business and problem-solving, systems thinking emerges as a paramount concept. This holistic approach to analysis and decision-making transcends traditional linear thinking, offering a multifaceted lens through which to understand and address complex issues. At its core, systems thinking recognizes the interconnectedness of components within a system and emphasizes the importance of considering relationships and interdependencies.

The Principles of Systems Thinking

What are the basic principles of systems thinking? Focusing on the system rather than its parts means being able to see the system as a whole To achieve this, it is essential to understand the deep relationships between the different components of the system: neglecting some of these (relevant) connections will have the effect of giving us a distorted view of the system (incomplete, not true) and will lead us to make ineffective decisions. Herein lies one of the basic capabilities of the systems thinker: deepening the relationships existing in the system at a given moment. Here are the “Eleven Laws of Systems Thinking” by Peter Senge:

  1. Today’s problems arise from yesterday’s solutions.
  2. The more you push forward, the more you push back.
  3. Before it gets worse, the behavior improves.
  4. The easy way out usually brings us back to the inside of the problem.
  5. The cure may be worse than the disease.
  6. Faster is slower.
  7. Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space.
  8. Small changes can produce big results, but the areas where the best effects can occur are often the least obvious.
  9. They can eat the cake, but not immediately.
  10. Dividing an elephant in two does not give two elephants.
  11. There is no blame to attribute.


Central to systems thinking is the principle of holism, which asserts that a system must be viewed as a whole, rather than as a collection of independent parts. By considering the system in its entirety, practitioners can gain insights into emergent properties and behaviors that arise from the interactions between components.


Systems thinking recognizes the interconnected nature of components within a system. Every element within a system is linked to others, directly or indirectly, and changes in one part can have ripple effects throughout the entire system. Understanding these interdependencies is crucial for identifying leverage points and designing effective interventions.

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Feedback Loops

Feedback loops play a significant role in systems thinking, shaping the behavior and dynamics of a system over time. Positive feedback loops amplify changes, leading to exponential growth or collapse, while negative feedback loops help maintain stability by counteracting deviations from equilibrium. Recognizing the presence of feedback loops allows practitioners to anticipate system behavior and intervene strategically.

Characteristics of systems thinking

The key elements of systems thinking:

  1. Interconnections: Systems thinking requires a change of perspective and moving from linear to circular thinking where each element is interconnected because, if it exists, it depends on or is caused by or causes something else.
  2. Change: It is the ability to detect change, because all systems are dynamic, there are always flows in motion between the elements.
  3. Summary: It is the ability to see the interconnections, to see the issue as a whole and its components.
  4. Feedback: Since everything is interconnected, systems thinking requires looking at the balancing or reinforcing effects that a given event generates. In other words, knowing how to identify flows and reactions.
  5. Randomness: It is the ability to figure out how things affect each other in a system.

Applications of Systems Thinking

Business Management

In the realm of business management, systems thinking offers a powerful tool for understanding organizational dynamics and improving decision-making processes. By viewing a company as a complex system composed of various departments, teams, and stakeholders, managers can identify leverage points for enhancing efficiency, innovation, and overall performance.

Environmental Sustainability

Systems thinking also finds applications in addressing complex environmental challenges, such as climate change and ecosystem degradation. By recognizing the interconnectedness of ecological systems and human activities, environmental scientists and policymakers can develop holistic strategies for conservation, resource management, and sustainable development.

Public Policy

In the arena of public policy, systems thinking provides policymakers with a comprehensive framework for addressing societal issues and promoting positive change. By analyzing the interconnected factors influencing social phenomena such as poverty, healthcare, and education, policymakers can design more effective interventions that address root causes rather than symptoms.

Implementing Systems Thinking

Systems Mapping

One of the key tools used in systems thinking is systems mapping, which involves visually representing the components and relationships within a system. By creating detailed diagrams or models, practitioners can gain insights into the structure and dynamics of complex systems, facilitating deeper understanding and analysis.

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Stakeholder Engagement

Engaging stakeholders is essential for successful implementation of systems thinking approaches. By involving individuals and groups affected by a system, practitioners can gain diverse perspectives, identify blind spots, and build consensus around potential solutions. Collaboration and co-creation are central to fostering systemic change and addressing complex challenges effectively.

Continuous Learning

Systems thinking requires a commitment to continuous learning and adaptation. Given the dynamic nature of complex systems, practitioners must remain vigilant, open-minded, and willing to update their mental models in response to new information and feedback. Embracing a learning mindset allows for iterative improvement and innovation in problem-solving approaches.

Benefits of systems thinking

  • Systems thinking helps us understand the complexity of a problem without simplifications, taking into account how the different elements affect each other.
  • Apply systems thinking helps see reality in interacting parts and to increase awareness of the short and long term consequences of our actions.
  • Systems thinking allows gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics of events, bringing to the surface the mechanisms and interactions that underlie, govern and define them.
  • It is an instrument that exalts the recombination capabilities of our mind allowing you to reveal the intrinsic mechanisms of how things work, from partial to total, reading the complete sequence of interrelationships.
  • The moment systemic thinking becomes as spontaneous as walking, the individual acquires almost a superpower, the mind receives new information and effortlessly filters it through a matrix of past experience that leads each new element to find its place and its connections, becoming part of a broader knowledge, well organized, easily accessible and always dynamically evolving.

Systems thinking offers a powerful framework for understanding and addressing complex issues in diverse domains, from business management to environmental sustainability and public policy. By recognizing the interconnectedness of components within a system and leveraging tools such as systems mapping and stakeholder engagement, practitioners can develop holistic strategies that promote positive change and drive innovation. Embracing systems thinking is essential for navigating the complexities of the modern world and building a more sustainable, resilient future.

This article is merely informative, at PsychologyFor we do not have the power to make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment. We invite you to go to a psychologist to treat your particular case.

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