Salt Lake City, Utah
June 20, 2004
June 20, 2004
June 23, 2004
9.1148.1 - 9.1148.9
Systems thinking: Theorists anchored in the real world
Dr. Mark L. Dean, Donna J. Evanecky, Nathan W. Harter, Julie A. Phillips, Michele L. Summers
Purdue University School of Technology New Albany, IN/Kokomo, IN/ Greensburg, IN/ Columbus, IN/Lafayette, IN
Engineers and engineering students are already familiar with systems thinking, since it is integrated into much of what they do. However, technical expertise without social expertise limits a person's effectiveness. In order to increase their proficiency as leaders and managers, engineers and engineering students can learn to apply systems thinking to organizations.
The Social Systems Model, or Social Model for short, integrates ideas and concepts from systems theory and applies them to the leadership of social organizations. Forrester, Ackoff and others pioneered social systems thinking, and their work has been continued by others including Senge, Deming, and Wheatley. These are theorists anchored in the real world, applying systems thinking to organizations where people work.
According to Deming1, "a system is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system." Ackoff (1981) suggests that “[t]he performance of a system is not the sum of the performance of its parts taken separately, but the product of their interactions.”2
Given this understanding, systems thinking is important for everyone in an organization to understand and be able to apply, but especially to leaders. Even though contemporary society has the tendency to divide the world into neat, arbitrary subdivisions, life comes to us whole and must be looked at through the systems lens.3 Once understanding of the concept of systems thinking is established, those involved are better able to connect the dots and see the organization in its entirety and contribute to the optimization of the whole.
For organizations to be led effectively, leaders must think in terms of relationships between and among departments instead of thinking about them as independent components. The reality is, all departments and all people in an organization are interdependent, not independent. The aim of these interdependent components should be to maximize their contribution to the performance of the organization as a whole. By doing this they optimize the performance of the whole, instead of individual departments within an organization, creating a win-win environment.
“Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education”
Summers, M., & Phillips, J., & Harter, N., & Dean, M., & Evanecky, D. (2004, June), Systems Thinking: From Theory To Application Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/13878
ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2004 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015