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Systems Thinking for Strategic Leaders

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Strategic thinkers and statesmen often begin their analysis by assuming a linear cause and effect relationship similar to a movecountermove exchange in chess. Although such linear formulations are a useful starting point for strategic leaders, they can be misleading. Systems thinking provides an alternative that highlights the limits to linear reasoning. For centuries the basic approach of science relied on linear logic and a belief that the best method for understanding any phenomenon was to break that phenomenon into parts that could be studied independently. Doing so was thought to simplify a problem, thereby making it more manageable for the scientist. The approach assumed the whole to be studied was simply equal to the sum of its parts. The logic of this linear thinking and its associated mechanical metaphors was transferred outside of the natural sciences and applied to many other disciplines. Beginning in the 1950s, the above mechanistic approach as the best method for gaining knowledge of the natural world began to be questioned. Underlying the emerging view was recognition that the whole was not merely the sum of its parts but rather something more. Consequently, a new approach organized around the concept of systems took root. Some of the scientific pioneers of the systems approach were concerned that the expansion of knowledge was so great that it resulted in excessive specialization that prevented scientists from communicating across disciplines so that, for example, physicists and biologists were isolated from one another. Therefore the pioneers of a systems approach aimed to create a general systems theory that could identify the existence of laws that might apply to similar structures in different fields. Ludwig von Bertalanffy, one of systems theory s early proponents, saw the purpose of systems theory as an important means in the process of developing new branches of knowledge into exact science, i.e. into a system of mathematical laws.

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  • Administration and Management

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