On this page I begin by introducing systems thinking, then focus on systems thinking as it relates to health care and end with a range of examples of systems thinking.
Systems thinking is a way of looking at a situation, issue or problem. This approach sees factors as being interconnected rather than separating out one factor and focusing on it which is referred to as linear or mechanistic thinking.
In the western world we have developed a culture where linear thinking dominates. We tend to separate out single ideas and work with them often excluding all others. It is something we do without realizing it. Linear thinking has played a role in our big successes but when not considered as part of a bigger whole linear thinking creates our big issues like climate change.
As I dealt with my family as my son became dysfunctional I intuitively realized the options available in my community would not function to help us. I searched out ideas. One book came up in a number of references entitled The Tree of Knowledge written by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela which demonstrates how our thinking develops. This book led me to consider my situation in a new way. To me there were two major takeaways:
1) Everything is connected. In our family it was not only our son impacted but how my time was spent, our finances,how
we as a group interacted with others, etc.
2) How we considered our situation was also important. This would be the view. How we considered the situation
determined how we would respond to it. I found out that ultimately it was how we approached our situation that
altered our expected outcome.
This book is a difficult read and explores ideas through evolutionary biology. Having studied biology that suited me.
To understand the development of systems thinking I have read many of the writings of Fritjof Capra. As an introduction to the ideas I feel his book entitled "The Web of Life: a New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems" is the best introduction. In this he gathers together the work of many of the leaders in system thinking including Humbert Maturana, Francesca Varela, Lynn Margulis, Ilya Priogine, etc. in one complete volume.
The Capra Course is an online course offered by Fritjof Capra. I took this course and found it excellent- connecting biology and ecology to everyday life. One lecture focuses on a vision of health. I believe the underlying view of how we perceive health is critical in shifting the issues facing our children today. The course highlights the ideas of Lynn Margulis and Francisco Varela, two thinkers who significantly affected my approach.For the course he developed a text book with Pier Luigi Luisi entitled "The Systems View of Life; A Unified Vision" I would highly recommend this course (or book) to anyone interested in systems thinking
The Academy for Systems Change is an organization which grew out of the work of Donella Meadows and others. They support collaborative projects which look at the interconnected factors in living systems. One project they are associated with is the One Health Institute at Colorado State University where they look for connections between animals, people and place.
The Institute for Systems Biology is a collaborative, high tech organization based in the United States exploring a wide range of systems approaches to biology.