Peter Senge on Systems Thinking

People must be willing to challenge their mental models in order to find non-obvious areas of high leverage – which allow significant improvement.

System thinking is a term that is often confusing to people. From my perspective it is important to understand the importance of leverage. Understanding systems lets you find solutions that may not be direct, but provide powerful leverage. Another important point is looking at the organization as a system.

Understanding the interdependence of the aspects of the system/organization/process is also important (and part of seeing the organization as a system). We often don’t consider how changes will impact other areas of the system that are not immediately apparent. This weakness in how we often think today, results in great opportunities to improve by factoring in the impacts that are not as obvious.

As Peter Senge mentions in the video the concept of long term thinking plays a role. Often we are now neglecting or vastly under-appreciating long term impacts (focusing on only the results in the short term) and thus often their are opportunities to improve just by factoring in not just the short term impacts but also placing importance on longer term impacts.

Peter Senge: “Its not about the smartest guys in the room its about what we can do collectively. So the intelligence that matters is the concept of collective intelligence.”

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3 thoughts on “Peter Senge on Systems Thinking

  1. Pingback: Peter Senge on the purpose of Systems Thinking | Positive Incline

  2. Great video on systems. It seems systems thinkers believe it to be a cure all. Deming’s addition of psychology, epistemology, and statistics and interactions is so much more powerful. What do you think? Is it all Japan needed because they had the other elements? Do we need more?

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  3. Sense has very good ideas. I would add to his thoughts more of what Deming, Scholtes, Joiner… said. I think many people get into the idea that their areas of interest is nearly everything that is needed.

    I don’t think Japan just needed systems thinking (for one thing there organizations start with more of that understanding). For another, a real problem in Japan is going along and not speaking up about problems. That is an issue everywhere but is much worse in Japan than the West. Japan has an obsession with customer service that would be valuable for USA organizations to learn from.

    A big part of what makes Deming’s framework so useful is he was continually learning and adopting new ideas (Senge does a lot of this compared to most people but I can’t think of anyone in the Management area that is close to as good as Deming was at this). I do think most Deming folks today would benefit greatly from much more thinking a about the organization as a system. It is often very superficial in my experience (repeating phrases like “we need to break down barriers between departments” or “it is a mistake to optimize the part because it sub-optimizes the whole”). Those ideas are great but you need to manage based on that concept not just say it and move on.

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