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Introduction to Systems Thinking PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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Introduction to Systems Thinking. By Louis Rowitz, PhD Director Illinois Institute for Maternal and Child Health Leadership.

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Introduction to Systems Thinking

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Introduction to Systems Thinking

By Louis Rowitz, PhD


Illinois Institute for Maternal and Child Health Leadership

Systems Thinking is a way of seeing and talking about reality that helps us better understand and work with organization and communities to influx the quality of our lives.

Modified by Kim

A system is any group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent parts that form a complex and unified whole that has a specific purpose

Bowl of fruit

Football team



Database of client


Tool in a toolbox


Local public health agency


Which are systems and which are collections

Whenever you add people to a collection you almost always transform a collection to a system

Characteristics of a System

  • Systems have a purpose that defines it as a discrete entity that holds it together

    • Purpose of an automobile……

Take you from one place to the other

Characteristics of a System

  • All parts must be present for a system to carry out its purpose optimally

    • Automobile without its spark plugs……

Car doesn’t work

Characteristics of a System

  • The order in which parts are arranged affects the performance of a system

Automobile with the driver in the backseat and the tires in the front seat

Systems attempt to maintain stability through feedback

  • Feedback provides information to the system that lets it know how it is doing relative to some desired state

Steering car and Feedback



Systemic Structure

Mental Models


The Iceberg

Action Model

Linear Perspective

AB C DE

Cause = Effect

Feedback Perspective

AB C DE

Thinking in Loops

Sales are down

Marketing Promotions

Orders Increase

Sales are up

Sales are Down

Marketing Promotions


Marketing Promotions







Sales are Down/Up


All systemic behavior can be described through two basic processes

  • Reinforcing

  • Balancing

Saving Balance

Interest Payments

Reinforcing Loops compound change in one direction with even more change in that direction

Greater your weight

More you eat



Give Examples

Use of meditation

Acceptable stress level


Stress level

Balancing loops seek equilibrium- some desired level of performance



S = Same

O = Opposite


Balancing Loops

Actual Level

Desired Level

Corrective Action


Questions these Diagrams help answer

  • Which gaps are driving our system when and by how much?

  • How accurately do we know what each of the gaps is?

  • How are we monitoring the gaps?

  • What are the different ways in which we can close the gaps?

  • How long does it take for perception to catch up to actual quality?

Every link in a system contains a delay

  • Physical

  • Transactional

  • Informational

  • Perceptual

Put the Pieces togetherArchetypes



Limits to Growth Template

Balancing Loop Target

Limits or constraints

Growing action

Growth Process



Corrective Action

Limting Process

Actual performance

(that you can measure or observe, that you can see growing)

Leaders work on the system not in the system

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