Systems Thinking – Synthesis

My understanding and appreciation of systems thinking has grown exponentially in the last six weeks. I chose to take systems thinking as a workshop because I was very introduced to the idea of systems through a variety of personal development books that I was reading about two years which wrote about creating systems for yourself. E.g. Going to the gym – create a system where you make it almost impossible (or minimize the number excuses) for you not to go to the gym – get all of your stuff ready the night before, pack your gym bag, set your running shoes out, have your pre-work out already made and place them at the end of your bed. This was my first non-academic exposure to creating a system that helped foster a pattern of ensuring I went to the gym every morning.

From this very basic understanding of a system, I have now been exposed to 8 different systems methodologies, which has completely changed my understanding of the word ‘system’. I came into the workshop for two reasons: 1) to gain insight into a new way to think and approach problem-solving and 2) something that could I leverage in a professional job. I honestly feel that both of those reasons have successfully been addressed in the space of six short weeks. Furthermore, both of those goals were focused on expanding my ability to problem solve either personally or professionally, as an active citizen as well as a young professional whose concentration is Knowledge Management and Information Management.

The three systems methodologies that I found particularly interesting were dialogue mapping, idealized design & interactive planning, and Viable Systems Model (VSM). Each one is valuable in its own right. I will go into further detail following this paragraph but generally speaking, I think of Dialogue Mapping as a valuable tool for KM professionals because it helps create meaningful, structured communication through argument visualization. Not only does it help create more logical communication its allows for greater dispersal and sharing of that communication. Idealized design and interactive planning is something I find particularly useful, not only for the fact that I did a presentation on it but because I think of it as an extremely useful planning tool that any organizations, public or private, could utilize for effective and successful planning efforts. Lastly, although I do need to expand my understanding of VSM, I believe it can be used by organizations as a really effective diagnostic tool. As a whole, I see these systems as complementary in that they can be used as tools to organizational solve problems.

For everything you understand in life, there will always be a countermeasure in what you do not understand. The same can be said of my experience in systems thinking – the methodologies that I did not grasp completely were Object-Process Methodology and Generative Pattern Language. Object-Process Methodology although it does seem like a very useful tool that utilizes a high degree of logic and rationality to model solutions it seems like its complexity in use may obstruct its mainstream adaption – this is just a personal thought. Although after Dr. Ing’s comments on my previous blog and discussing GPL with my partner I do have a better understanding of it is a methodology then I did after last week. When I have some free time I want to read Christopher Alexander’s works because I do find his overall findings fascinating from a design perspective.

I want to turn the focus on the three methodologies and approaches that struck a chord with me beginning with Dialogue Mapping – and how I could potentially use it as a KM tool.  From a KM perspective, there is a lot of emphasis on organizational culture, in the hopes that the culture embraces and values communication and is willing to communicate with one another within a department or even between departments. This kind of culture and communication enables knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer which is one facet of what KM professionals seek to do. I definitely see how Dialogue Mapping, Computer Supported Argument Visualization (CSAV), or even Information / Knowledge Visualization can help induce greater communication making the job of a KM professional easier.

I found a chapter in Knowledge and Information Visualization: Searching for Synergies written by David Jonassen titled ‘Tools for Representing Problems the Knowledge Required to Solve Them”. This chapter essentially advocates for the use of representation tools, such as concept maps, expert systems, and systems dynamics tools to help present the problem and the required knowledge to solve it (2005).  Jonassen argues that students in an academic setting who are trying to solve a problem are not trained to understand the underlying systems they are working in so he stressing using semantic networks for modelling for conceptual knowledge as well as systems modelling for representing problems (2005). Funny enough that the diagram he uses to show an example looks just like OPM diagram – which makes me think, that I should get more comfortable with that methodology.

The other systems approach I am interested in using in a professional setting would be interactive planning in an organizational setting. The article that I read in great depth for the presentation was by Iman Santoso and the application of Interactive Planning in Indonesia to solve the problem of immigration and foster greater public service leadership (2015). This article made an impression on me because it illustrated how effective this planning strategy could be and how it could be used by public sector organizations. I think such an approach of planning is very necessary for public sector organizations and has potential to really set a tone and being driving factor successful and meaningful change. As someone who wants to work as a KM professional (potentially consultant) that specializes working with public sector organizations – interactive planning will definitely be something I return to.

Lastly, I am fascinated by Viable System Models – theoretically and practically.  I love the various examples that stretch from the human body and to a industrial manufacturing operation. To me this is one of the best examples of how systems operate at such deep levels in our society that they often go unobserved by many of us. Furthermore the ability to frame in a model that can explain the human body and a manufacturing company speaks to how pervasive systems are in our world – operation, management, and the relevant environment the parts that make up the whole model. Not only do I find the theory extremely fascinating, I believe that VSM can be a very powerful diagnostic tool for professionals seeking to understand various organizational problems.

I found an article that pretty much discusses how VSM can be used in middle size and small enterprises as a useful diagnostic tool. The authors show that a common theme detected in small businesses that were failing were a lack of subsystems for the purposes of control, coordination, and communication (2013). Using the VSM and action research the researchers were able to effectively diagnose subsystem failures through holistic interventions throughout the whole organization and its external linkages (2013). VSM becomes a tool that can be used in large, middle, and small business’s making it very versatile and useful for those in a problem solving role.

The first half of the title of our info-graphic was ‘The System’s Toolkit…’ a part of me thinks we should have just made that the full title but the idealist in me was to strong. I believe systems thinking can help us deal with wicked problems. Yet at a more practical and relevant level, as I look for co-op and later, professional employment, I feel that I have been exposed to concepts that have not only changed how I think for the better but how they relate to other issues that I am interested in exploring professionally like knowledge management, change management, innovation, design thinking, and service systems.


Burgess, Nicola and Nicholas Wake. 2013. “The Applicability of the Viable Systems Model as a Diagnostic for Small to Medium Sized Enterprises.” International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management 62 (1): 29-46. doi:10.1108/17410401311285282.

Keller, Tanja; Tergan, Sigmar-Olaf, Knowledge and Information Visualization: Searching for Synergies (Springer, 2005), <> ( 14 February 2018)

Malik Management Systems. 2016. Malik Viable System Model. Web Video.

Santoso, M. Iman. 2015. “Applying Interactive Planning on Public Service Leadership in the Directorate General of Immigration Indonesia.” Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, The 6th Indonesia International Conference on Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Small Business (IICIES 2014), 169 (January):400–410.

One thought on “Systems Thinking – Synthesis

  1. Six weeks isn’t a long time to get immersed into systems thinking, but then, as I’m approaching 20 years in the field, I feel that I’m still learning myself.

    The ability to see across multiple methods, and critically evaluate each one shows an emerging maturity. Having the passing familiarity, and incomplete understanding, of the details of these approaches presents the opportunity for deeper inquiry some day.

    Visualization and representation are important in self-evaluation of whether a systems is or is not understood (either personally, or across a group). Some of us prefer words to drawings, each person learns differently.

    Now that you have an personal appreciation of systems, maybe you can focus on other collections of parts that espouse to be systems, but somehow aren’t.


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