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Think like A Great Mind – Systems Thinking

Think like A Great Mind – Systems Thinking

“For every complex problem there is a solution that is concise, clear, simple, and wrong.” – H.L. Mencken

Usually I am not that engaged in politics and the world problems. Of course, as any healthy world citizen should, I care about the issues. But I don’t let it rule my day, year, or life. The reason I write this article is not because of a single event or thing. What I find annoying is the fact that it seems as if people are drawing away from reason and fact.

In a world that is drawing to extremes; think Trump, Brexit, IS, immigration issues, we must not forget to think. Sound easy right; to THINK. Extreme events strike at the heart of extreme emotions, and these attract proponents of extreme solutions. The fact that Trump got elected rose for a large part from the unsatisfied, scared feelings from almost half of voting Americans. Trump played this card pretty well, and managed to secure the victory. Here in Europe we have seen the same kind of thinking when (mostly elderly people of) Britain voted for an exit out of the European Union.

Furthermore the problems in the Middle East with IS and the subsequent immigration issues throughout Europe, have struck people at the center of their emotion. Proponents of hard, strict and simple to understand solutions are getting even more popular, and the voice of reason falls to the background.

What is even worse than proposing simple solutions to messy problems, is advocating misleading numbers and not looking at the facts. It’s no use in stopping people from wanting to be popular and thus using popular emotions to win hearts and votes. We need to stop believing these people without reasoning first. We need to start thinking as scientists, and great minds. One way is to start seeing problems as they really are. They are not clear cut, but messy and complex. Thankfully we have a thing called Systems Thinking.

I dare not propose this to be a complete introduction to the practical side of Systems Thinking. But I had a real eye opening when it was introduced to me while at University. Systems Thinking is a way of addressing decision making issues. Using a holistic analysis focusing on the way that a system’s essential parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems. It recognizes that each piece is affected by each of the other pieces and tries to work out how. Feedback loops or causal loops are used to build an overview to aid decision making.

So a simple set of feedback loops would look like this:


These address the concept of motivation. Left is a positive feedback loop that reinforces itself. Right is a negative feedback loop that also reinforces itself.

If you take reinforcing (+,+ or -,-) causal loops and put them together, you could see an escalation of great proportions. For example, the loop in the following left picture.


People panic and start running, causing more people to panic and run. That’s when you call it a reinforcing loop. When you introduce an negative to a positive or vice versa, you get a balancing loop. Depending on the measure of force in each causal reaction you will get a balance sooner or later. An equilibrium will maintain.

Using these loops you can build up bigger and complex systems. Like this one for urbanization issues.


Or check out this one, about the dynamics in the stability in Afghanistan.


My point in this article is that most problems in the world are connected to other issues. The larger and more complex a problems is, the larger your system will be. Changing or influencing one feedback loop could distort the entire system. This could result in events that, when we don’t have an all knowing overview, we don’t even know what could happen. This is what is happening to the ecology around us all the time. We are still learning the impact of global warming, deforestation, melting polar ice, waste and other human factors on the well-being of the planet, and all inhabitants of it. But as we uncover more and more, we can see and predict more and more of its effects. Not knowing about it, results in people not acknowledging it (Trump) or coming up with simple solutions.

We need to see that messy problems are messy for a reason. Try to think about the bigger picture, and more important think for yourself (Read why you should here). Let reason be the way to guide your decisions, not emotion. Use facts and proven feedback loops to see the total system (as large as you can imagine, since the total system is endless). Learn and study history (That’s why you should read).

Be a great mind, and think in holistic systems.


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