If you think in systems, you will live a better life.
This is because everything in the world around you consists of systems, whether you are aware of it or not.
Most of the time these systems run in the background, silently working to form your experience of the world.
But every now and then if we look inside and see how they work, we can pull a lever here or edit a line of code there—and make things better.
What Are Systems and What Is Systems Thinking?
People are generally used to thinking in terms of goals or the things they want.
But what they have trouble understanding is the concept of systems.
You may want to hit a certain weight goal, but you need a system of diet and exercise to get there.
You may want to hit a certain financial goal, but you need a system like a business, job or portfolio to get there.
Despite how they sound, systems are not complicated and certainly not restricted to people who have a formal education in them.1I say this as someone who has a geeky-sounding degree in systems 🎓.
Anyone can learn how to think in systems, and can learn how to take and apply them to the different parts of their life.
A system is a collection of things that work together to produce a certain result.
They are usually represented as such:
I also consider systems to cover models that help you understand how something works and how to improve on it. For example, the areas of life model is extremely useful for deconstructing life systematically.
The neat thing about systems is that once you know what they look like, they can be adjusted, improved and changed over time.
Systems thinking is the ability or skill to think in systems. To see them, to understand them and to know how to improve them to make them better.
Systems thinking is about seeing what makes something work (or not work) and then using your problem solving and critical thinking skills to improve it.
Why Is Systems Thinking Important?
Systems thinking is important because it is one of the easiest ways to get organised and to find an optimal way to live.
And that just makes rational sense.
The alternative is to live in a non-optimal-way which frankly, sucks, and just doesn’t make any sense at all.
Would you rather be better, faster and more efficient?
Or lazier, slower and more prone to excuses?
Systems thinking is important because it lets you see behind the curtain and gives you access to the controls of life.
Whatever it is you want—better health, better skills, more money—if you know which levers to pull and buttons to push, you can have it.
And not only that, in the process of learning about which levers to pull and buttons to push and in which order, you acquire the skill of operating that system.
When you understand how systems work, the concept of “I can’t do that” ceases to exist. You can simply work out how that particular system operates and implement it in your life.
What Are Some Example Systems?
People generally think of systems as machinery or computers and code, but those are specific examples of the systems concept.
Business is one of the purest expression of systems, one that creates valuable goods and services for its customers, opportunities for its operators and wealth for its owners.
Time management is a system, one designed to keep you in productive flow.
This is not to say that systems are a panacea for everything. Not every system works for everybody. We all come into this world with a particular biology, characteristics and idiosyncrasies that interact differently with different systems.
How to Develop a Systems Thinking Mindset
Developing the ability to think in systems is simpler than most people think—you just need an open mind and some curiosity.
You start by taking something, and asking how it works:
- How does it work for you?
- How does it work for others?
- Are there any general principles behind it?
And then you express its inputs, processing and outputs, on paper.
And you ask how to make it better.
And then you implement it.
And that’s all there really is to systems thinking.
Once you’ve done this a few times, you will start to see everything around you as comprised of systems—systems for convenience, for marketing, for human interaction, and much, much more.
What To Do Next
Much of what I write about is systems. About taking them and thinking about them, deconstructing them and seeing why they exist and how we can improve them.
If you want to learn more about using systems (and more) to live a better life, you can download Evolution here.
- I say this as someone who has a geeky-sounding degree in systems 🎓.
Photo by Markus Spiske.