Understanding systems thinking: an agenda for applied research in industry

Pamela Buckle Henning, Jacqui Wilmshurst, Mike Yearworth

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)

8 Citations (Scopus)
282 Downloads (Pure)


Why systems thinking is valuable is relatively easy to explain. However, in the authors’ work as university educators, teaching a student processes of enquiry that are themselves systemic is a difficult undertaking. The capacity to view the world in systemic ways seems an innate characteristic that some individuals possess. Might it be the case that being a systems thinker is dependent on holding a particular worldview? Systems theorists have evolved tools and methodologies to help people do systems thinking. Is being a user of systems methods the same as being a systems thinker? Are certain cognitive competencies, styles, or preferences required for people to make effective use of such tools and methodologies? Systems thinking, then, is a much-discussed, little understood human process. People value systems thinking for various reasons. To certain individuals, it is quite simply the thinking strategy best suited to the complex problems of a 21st-century world. Others view it as an ethical imperative, given the interdependence characterizing life on this planet. For some, the term ‘systems thinker’ signifies their sense of belongingness to a community of like-minded thinkers, and for yet others it may be an unavoidable consequence of the way that their brains process new information and make sense of the stimuli presented by the world. How do these different takes on what systems thinking means shape how it is developed in individuals and taught to students in higher education? These are among the queries that can arise for those interested in developing systems thinking abilities in themselves and others. Such queries have catalyzed a research agenda for the authors – who bring widely varying perspectives from their work in information technology, psychology, engineering, and management – to the question: What exactly is systems thinking?
Translated title of the contributionUnderstanding Systems Thinking: An Agenda for Applied Research in Industry
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 56th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2012, San Jose, CA, USA
EditorsJ Wilby
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Bibliographical note

Conference Proceedings/Title of Journal: Proceedings of the 56th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences
Conference Organiser: International Society for the Systems Sciences


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