Habits of Systems Thinkers

If you think that the status quo can be changed over time, then you have to be a systems thinker. System thinkers have specific habits and ways of understanding and interacting with the world that helps them identify where to intervene in a system in order to change it. If you were lucky enough to go to college, then you have probably studied systems thinking in one form or another. But it sure ain’t being addressed in primary school. Though some folks are trying to change that.

The Waters Foundation aims to bring systems thinking education to k-12. There is an excellent interactive graphic on their website called “Habits of a Systems Thinker.” The graphic illustrates 14 habits and if you click on each illustration, you’ll get a little more information. The 14 habits are:

  1. Seeks to understand the big picture
  2. Observes how elements within systems change over time, generating patterns and trends
  3. Recognizes that a system’s structure generates its behavior
  4. Identifies the circular nature of complex cause and effect relationships
  5. Makes meaningful connections within and between systems
  6. Changes perspectives to increase understanding
  7. Surfaces and tests assumptions
  8. Considers an issue fully and resists the urge to come to a quick conclusion
  9. Considers how mental models affect current reality and the future
  10. Uses understanding of system structure to identify possible leverage actions
  11. Considers short-term, long-term and unintended consequences of actions
  12. Pays attention to accumulations and their rates of change
  13. Recognizes the impact of time delays when exploring cause and effect relationships
  14. Checks results and changes actions if needed: “successive approximation”

Systems thinking is a necessary skill for artists and inventors. If you are making something new and putting it out there in the world, you are in effect saying that the status quo is broken and what you are making and sharing is part of the way forward to something new and better–a new way of thinking or behaving or interacting or engaging.


more reading:

Habits of a Systems Thinker (interactive graphic)

Social Systems Design Lab