Economics, History, Management, MBA, Thoughts

Why systems thinking? (seeing the forest, not the trees)


In 1619 René Descartes opened a way of reasoning that sparkled scientific progress, but at the same time made it difficult for us westerners to think in certain ways. When we hear of things like holistic thinking or quantum management sometimes we gaze in surprise or awe, and we listen for a while… until we remember we have lots of things to do and want to be bothered no more.

And easterners that come to our European universities and schools sometimes are carried by our individualistic and simplificative values and begin to think like us, making one step back as well as of one forward. For what it’s worth, the individualistic approach to the world has earned us things like the Renaissance, humanism and capitalism. Without them the world wouldn’t be as it is today, and we wouldn’t be where we are. It’s great to acknowledge that. But it’s not enough.


Reductionists approaches, just like Descartes’ helped us to understand the trees in the forests, then the chemistry in their leaves, and the structure of their atoms. We even tried to go further and we succeeded and found an intriguing subatomic world of neutrinos, pions, muons and bosons. Although some bossons have been predicted but never observed it seems we have gone a long way to our knowledge of the basic structure of reality. All these are achievements of the western world.


But in the way we forgot to look at the whole picture. And that has happened in many ways. In managemente too. We jump to the parts that we can quantify, sometimes only the parts that we can exactly quantify. And then we start counting, and adding, spending a lot of effort in details we might not need.

We never try to mix sales data with customer perception on the same spreadsheet. After all we would be crazy if we did. We can add up sales, and costs, up to the cent, who’d want to mix up that precise and objective calculation with something that couldn’t be measured? Well, nature does just that. (Remember the Heisenberg principle that I introduced in the Quantum Organisation post? By the way, the quantums are the ones in the standard model chart above.)

Nature doesn’t really care about exact values. It cares about systems. The first grasp that we took at that was with Ecology. Ernst Haeckel defined it in 1866 as a science about relationships. There were no more isolated biological identities, no more rivers to measure or atmosphere to analyse. There was a system. With its changes, crisis, equilibriums, unstability.

Note: This beautiful piece of Earth is in Lithuania

Suddenly we realise that companies can’t be just measured with accounting figures, that organisations won’t be understood by their books. There’s much more to them. There are forces, just like the nature forces, but this time they are grouped into five groups by Porter. They will resist the change that managers want to drive. They will sometimes counteract, reject, or kill. They are alive, albeit in some strange way.

Einstein said “be as simplest as possible, but no simpler”. In a sistemic approach we are trying to be simple too, but seeing the whole, not just a collection of parts. No more local maximums that don’t add up to a global maximum. This time we are going towards the system.

(to be continued)


3 thoughts on “Why systems thinking? (seeing the forest, not the trees)

  1. Hi gabriel,

    We looked for HP and Lenovo. We ruled out sony as it is costing us a lot. Between HP and Lenovo, again after considering the cost factor and reviews from other students we concluded that Lenovo is better. But for the configuration that we r going to take (Core 2 Duo, 2 GB RAM, 100 GB Hard Disk), there will not be much difference in performance among all the brands. :).

    I hope evrything is going great at your end.

  2. Pingback: Thinking strategic (from organisations to the economy) « Gabriel’s scarcity rent - it’s management stupid!

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