Systems Thinking and Decision-Making

It might seem more straightforward to concentrate solely on the matter at hand and solve problems when they occur. However, this approach does not provide any insurance against unintended or unexpected consequences. The way to adequately anticipate the results of one’s actions lies in putting effort into a deeper understanding of the causal relationships, which is one of the systems thinking aspects. Systems thinking can be described as a systematic cognitive approach to the world’s complexity; it implies looking at the external world as a whole and grasping the relationships between its particular parts (CDC, 2017). The understanding of causality ultimately allows foreseeing implications of possible actions, thus, resulting in more efficient decision-making.

The application of systems thinking can be generalized into three components: what to do, how to do it, and how to understand it is done well. First, any problem must be appropriately analyzed and understood (CDC, 2017). Picturing the problem’s boundaries and understanding the inner logic will provide a solid starting point for future actions. With the help of a broader picture, it is possible to start working toward the solution. The scientific, also referred to as the empirical, approach of building theories, testing them, and observing the results will launch the loop of gradual improvement on the way to the desired outcome (CDC, 2017). Finally, a perfect indicator of a successful work will be the transparency and simplicity of personal understanding of the problem (CDC, 2017). Reducing the complexity and removing the ambiguous and irrelevant is the nature of the systems thinking approach.

To further increase the efficiency of problem-solving, the concept of high leverage was developed in the context of systems thinking. According to CDC (2017), high leverage can be characterized as the ability to fundamentally enhance the performance of a system, simultaneously reducing the probability of unintended adverse outcomes. The equation of high leverage has two interconnected variables: the amount of conducted change and the number of unintended consequences. They exist in an inverse relationship – the main idea is to manage the most significant change with minimal adverse outcomes (TEDx Talks, 2014). This concept is often used regarding major, global issues that require fundamental changes.

In many ways, systems thinking is closely related to the objectives of the “learning organization.” For instance, one of the most apparent connections can be seen to the term metanoia (Senge, 2006). The verbatim translation of the Greek word metanoia would be “beyond the mind,” which implies the significant shift of mind or mind’s transcendence (Senge, 2006). The application of systems thinking requires precisely that – a change in the way how to perceive the world and increase awareness (CDC, 2017). Another shared ground between the terms is their synonymical relationship to the learning process, which also can be understood as the fundamental mind’s change.

Consequently, the idea of learning organization proves to incorporate metanoia and systems thinking. Being a broad and abstract concept, the learning organization opposes the idea of the world’s disunity. It creates space for the achievement of desired results, the creation of new thinking patterns, and collective learning (Senge, 2006). In the latter context, shared vision and ideas must be understandable and transparent (TEDx Talks, 2014). Thus, the application of systems thinking will allow for flexible communication and clarity in terms of collective decision-making.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2017). The Value of Systems Thinking [Video]. YouTube. Web.

TEDx Talks. (2014). Systems thinking for a better world | Rebecca Mills | TEDxAuckland [Video]. YouTube. Web.

Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. Broadway Business.

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