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The idea of a system as 'a set of parts which, when combined, have qualities that are not present in any of the parts themselves' is a very productive way of looking at the world – which turns out to be full of systems. Many engineered systems are much broader than the association with 'engineering' might imply: the 'elements' or 'parts' of a system may include, for example, people, processes, information, organisations and services, as well as software, hardware and complex products.
The qualities that 'emerge' at the level of the whole also deserve a special mention. They arise when system elements interact with each other and their environment, and indeed only exist when the components of a system are able to interact. Although 'emergence' brings the risk of unintended consequences, a major cause of embarrassing system and project failures, skilled systems engineers can create higher value for less cost by using emergence to deliver desired system qualities.
Systems Thinking is a way of thinking used to address complex and uncertain real world problems. It recognises that the world is a set of highly interconnected technical and social entities which are hierarchically organised producing emergent behaviour.
"Systems Thinking enables you to grasp and manage situations of complexity and uncertainty in which there are no simple answers. It’s a way of learning your way to effective action by looking at connected wholes rather than separate parts. It is sometimes called practical holism." [Open University definition]
"Systems thinking is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns rather then static snapshots. It is a set of general principles spanning fields as diverse as physical and social sciences, engineering and management." [Peter Senge , The Fifth Discipline]
Systems Thinking is an essential skill for Systems Engineers which is shared with many disciplines and provides a key intellectual underpinning for Systems Engineering.
Systems thinking provides a rigorous way of integrating people, purpose, process and performance; and also: