An (eco)system — whether it is an organisation, a city, an industry, or a part of society — can be seen as an interdependent network of self-interested actors jointly creating value in a way that no single actor would be able to do. (Adner, 2006; Bogers, Sims, West, 2019)
Systemic thinking provides a way to understand the bigger context or “ecosystem” in which a project or organisation is situated rather than solely focusing on the direct context.
It helps to identify and appreciate interconnections and relationships within the ecosystem, recognizing the dependencies and feedback loops* between various actors. For example, Ubbinks’ dependency on partners in their sales channels to bring their products to market.
It facilitates a deep understanding of where in the system to intervene because intervening without considering the broader context in which problems exist can trigger unintended consequences elsewhere, often leading to new, more severe problems.
System mapping provides a holistic way to identify the root causes of a challenge as well as leverage points to unlock change.
*feedback loops are circular (loops) processes of cause & effect (feedback) that influence a system’s behaviour. Instead of thinking linearly, it recognizes that as the cause (A) leads to an effect (B), B will also affect A. A well-known feedback loop is, for example, central heating. The thermostat (A) influences the heater (B), and the produced heat (B) influences the workings of the thermostat (a).
Feedback loops are used to model dynamic systems in a holistic manner conceptually, mapping how variables (i.e., factors, issues, processes) influence one another.