Systems/Macro Thinking: A Primer
- Fred A. Manuele (Hazards Limited)
- Document ID
- American Society of Safety Engineers
- Professional Safety
- Publication Date
- January 2019
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 37 - 42
- 2019. American Society of Safety Professionals
- 5 in the last 30 days
- 18 since 2007
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- This article discusses systems thinking and the premises on which it is based, and demonstrates that experts in this field of study do not agree on a singular definition.
- The author describes the status quo in the practice of safety and discusses the enormity of the culture change needed in some organizations to adopt systems thinking concepts.
- The article connects systems/ macro thinking to having a sociotechnical balance in operations. It also encourages the use of the five-why problem-solving technique in the early stages of applying systems/macro concepts.
More often than in the past, systems thinking is a term used by some safety practitioners and occasionally it is found in safety- related literature. Promoting systems/macro thinking is progressive and commendable, and should be encouraged.
Many safety practitioners would increase their effectiveness by adopting the premises on which systems thinking is based in a form that is practicable and effective in the organizations to which they give advice. To adopt systems/macro thinking, safety practitioners must understand its bases.
What Is Systems Thinking?
Those engaged in the field of systems thinking have not yet arrived at a uniformly accepted definition for their subject, as the writings of several authors show.
To his own question, “What does systems thinking involve?” Goodman (2018) responds:
The term systems thinking can mean different things to different people. Systems thinking is a diagnostic tool. In this sense, systems thinking is a disciplined approach for examining problems more completely and accurately before acting. It allows us to ask better questions before jumping to conclusions.
Richmond (2018) acknowledges that the application of his view of systems thinking can be difficult. He says that applying systems thinking “remains a tough nut to crack” and doing so “requires a whole package of thinking skills.”
Several books relating to systems thinking have been published, such as Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, first printed in 1990 and revised in 2006, and Donella Meadows’s Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Several excerpts from Meadows (2008) follow.
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