Traditional scientific analysis says that to understand a problem you have to take apart the issue and decompose it into all its components and sub-components. But this doesn’t explain systemic issues in which the cause of a problem is outside the problem itself.
For example, Banks have bad data quality in their branch operations. A traditional IT approach to this problem would be to inspect the data to understand the incidences of bad data quality and trace the lineage to discover its origins. A systemic approach would be to see bad data quality in the larger context of a banking data system and to try to understand why does a Bank have branches, why do branches produce data, how do the branches interact with data, and why is it sometimes bad? The two approaches might arrive at similar conclusions, but not always solve the same problems.
I’ve been a fan of systems thinking for many years. Its a fascinating way of seeing the world that is, unfortunately, hampered by its own complexity. It’s taken humanity thousands of years to get accustomed to communicating cause and effect. You probably remember when you learned cause and effect in high school or college. It still has to be taught. And the fact is that for most of the history of civilisation, cause and effect could describe most interactions, problems, and solutions. In 1804, there were 1 billion people on the planet. It took another 120 years to reach 2 billion, and by 1974 that doubled to 4. Today, were at 7, and by 2046 it will be 9 billion. Large numbers of people create ever larger systems of use and interaction whose complexity itself requires new ways of thinking to comprehend far more correlations than simple cause and effect.
Few people have understood or articulated these issues as well as Russell Ackoff (1919-2009). I am sorry I didn’t meet him while he was alive, but many of his wonderful speeches and ideas are recorded online. Take 10 minutes to get to know him. Its really worth it.