System Thinking

Some definitions of systems are as follows:

  1. A group of interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its boundaries, structure and purpose and expressed in its functioning.
  2. A set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network.
  3. A set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized framework or method.
  4. A mathematical system (𝑆, ∗) consists of a set 𝑆 with elements 𝑎, 𝑏, 𝑐, 𝑑, … together with a binary operation ∗ that combines any two elements in 𝑆 to create a new element (e.g. 𝑎 ∗ 𝑏𝑑∗𝑐,𝑏∗𝑏,etc.). Note that the set 𝑆 can be either finite or infinite.

Notice the commonality in all these definitions. “A set of” something…rules, principles, elements, etc…All organized and working together for some specified outcome.

Systems guide everything, including our own universe.

So it might make intuitive sense to employ system thinking for anything we’re trying to accomplish. Which is just thinking holistically. Thinking of causes and effects. Seeing everything as interconnected. Breaking things down into a series of manageable steps. (Re-read my post about workplans as an example of system thinking.)

Yes, goals are important. They point us in the right direction. To paraphrase Seneca, “If you don’t know which port you’re sailing to, no wind is favorable.” But goals only go so far. Without setting up a system for how we’re going to accomplish something, it won’t get done. Especially on those days when willpower and motivation are running low. Or when life doesn’t seem to be cooperating with our desired schedule.

System thinking is about process. About continually doing something because it’s part of your identity. It’s who you are. “I’m the type of person who does this.” Not for accolades, awards or achievement. Because those things fade.

But systems last forever.

P.S. – This James Clear article does a good job of breaking down system thinking over goal thinking. And provides some excellent examples.

P.P.S. – R.I.P. Michael K. Williams. A truly great actor who you never caught “acting.” I remember my dad calling me one night about about a new show “The Wire”, that I had to watch. He singled out one actor in particular as being so incredibly real. That was Michael K. Williams as “Omar Little.” Listen to this recent podcast with Marc Maron.

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