Posts Tagged ‘Jamshid Gharajedaghi’

Nasty, Non-linear, Inter-variable Couplings

September 14, 2014 6 comments

To illustrate the difference between analytical thinking and systems thinking (which some people think are identical), Jamshid Gharajedaghi presents these two figures in his wonderful book: “Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity“.


Anyone who has been through high school has been exposed to equations of the type on the left. To discover the impact of one variable, say x1, on the system output, y, you simply vary its value while keeping the values of the other (so-called) independent variables fixed. But what about equations of the type on the right? Every time you attempt to vary the value of one variable to discover its effect on system behavior, you unwittingly “disturb” the values of each of the other variables… which in turn disturbs the variable you’re trying to directly control… which in turn disturbs the set of variables yet again… ad infinitum. It’s called the law of unintended consequences.

Nice and tidy equations of the type on the left are applicable to, and only to, problem modeling in the natural sciences in which the players are time, energy, and mindless chunks of matter. Intractable sets of equations of the type on the right, unsolvable messes in which every variable is correlated which every other variable, are applicable to socio-technical systems where the most influential players have minds of their own. System thinkers focus on the coupling and dynamic interactions between the variables in the system to understand emergent behaviors. Analytical thinkers assume away (either consciously or unconsciously) the nasty, non-linear, inter-variable couplings and thus form an erroneous understanding of the underlying causes of system behavior. Welcome to the guild of business management.

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