A summary of ‘The Systems Approach’

In developing as a systems thinker I think that it is important to get a balance between the theoretical frameworks, and practical action in the world. This is another post that I need to return to, the MSc is devouring all my free time though!


This is a 15-paragraph overview of a series of 15 blogging posts, which covered the whole of Churchman’s The Systems Approach (TSA), a rather well-known book he wrote in 1968, of which I am convinced that it hasn’t lost any of its relevance to the decision-making problems of the world today. At the end of each paragraph is a link to the original post, providing a more extensive summary of the original chapter. By quickly reading through the 2000+ words of this overview you get a good impression of what Churchman’s seminal book is about. You will also see the first outlines of the framework of categorical considerations that Churchman presents in his next book (The Design of Inquiring Systems) and that forms the basis for Werner Ulrich’s Critical System Heuristics. You will also get a better sense of how that framework was originally used by Churchman, which isn’t all that…

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Learning Contract as a Systems Model

I am doing this same course… about 5 years later to the day and appreciated seeing this diagram! I based my version on a systemic inquiry process, so its interesting to see a different perspective based on the juggler metaphor.

Systems Thinking-A Student

This is my first iteration of my learning contract for this course as a systems model
It will change as my current understanding even from producing this first iteration is developing and changing

Let me know what you think

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Principles of Outstanding Leadership

In 2010 The Work Foundation conducted a qualitative study on what leaders themselves believe leadership to be and how they practice it. Through interviews with 77 leaders, their managers and direct reports, the top characteristic identified was that outstanding leaders "Think systemically and act long term, and achieve through a combination of systemic thinking and … Continue reading Principles of Outstanding Leadership

The systems approach: theory for practice

In 5 sections Sjon summarises the theory behind his systems approach:
– What’s the systems approach?
– Why wicked solutions?
– Why isn’t the systems approach applied more often?
– The link with design
– Some related approaches

I am saving this post for future reference when I get and read through ‘Wicked Solutions’ … unfortunately my reading list a bit packed at the moment due to the MSc, but this post is going in at the top!


Over the past 4 years I have written a good number of posts on various aspects of the systems approach. In this post I will re-arrange more than 30 of them, to provide a more or less coherent body of theoretical insights underlying Wicked Solutions, a practical book – in fact, a work book –  about the systems approach. Along the way you will learn why “it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” (Maslow, 1962). Make sure you do not give in to that temptation!

What’s a wicked problem?         Many scholars before me – and beware, I am not much of a scholar myself, preferring practice over theory, but sometimes a bit of theory can help – have introduced their version of the systems approach by first explaining what a wicked problem is. That makes sense, because…

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The value of systems practice

All the processes within a corporate project environment seem to be designed to create certainty. Every forum, methodology,  governance group and management report is focused on making our actions predictable, and leaders hate to be surprised. Our financial and human resources forecasting and measuring is done on yearly cycles and resist efforts to deviate. The … Continue reading The value of systems practice

Product based approach as an antidote to a projectified environment… or not…

(Reference: Chapter 10 of "Systems practice" by Ison, 2017) A product rather than project approach is being encouraged to avoid failures associated with a projects culture, targets mentality and goal focussed thinking. For example, we have had projects with different levels of success to establish platforms and associated usage frameworks. The project approach worked well … Continue reading Product based approach as an antidote to a projectified environment… or not…

Reflection and reflexivity in a projectified environment

The ideas of reflection and reflexivity could be key success factors in elements of an Agile approach, but unfortunately seem to be lost in a typical projectified environment. You are reflecting when you think about your performance. There might be an element of evaluation, or it could be more narrative in nature and focussed on … Continue reading Reflection and reflexivity in a projectified environment

An inquiry into practice for managing systemic change

1.7 An inquiry into my own practice for managing systemic change Formally, everything at work is about project and program management. Informally however, often it is about learning. If there was a KPI to measure learning, it would be a game changer, but would require acknowledging uncertainty since there would not be a predefined destination. … Continue reading An inquiry into practice for managing systemic change

Managing Systemic Change: Inquiry, action and interaction

The second module of the MSc STiP (Systems Thinking in Practice has started. The course is absolutely fascinating, and once again is very oriented to learning by doing, although the amount of critical reading required is sure to be challenging in the middle of several major projects at work. I am not sure if the … Continue reading Managing Systemic Change: Inquiry, action and interaction