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Systems Thinking Glossary

Welcome to the Systems Thinking Glossary, your go-to resource for understanding essential terminology, vocabulary, definitions, and concepts in systems thinking. Whether you’re a novice eager to learn the basics or an experienced professional looking to deepen your knowledge, this glossary is here to support your journey. By exploring the interconnectedness and holistic approach inherent in systems thinking, our glossary helps you navigate complex systems and enhances your understanding of this transformative field.


Agency refers to the ability of an individual or organization to act independently and make decisions that affect themselves or others. It is the capacity to take action and have an impact on a situation or outcome. In social and cultural contexts, agency is often associated with autonomy, self-determination, and the ability to shape one’s own identity and actions.


Archetypes are recurring patterns of behavior that are observed across different systems and situations.
See Also: Patterns , Pathologies


Autopoiesis refers to the self-making process through which living systems create and recreate themselves, maintaining their own identity as distinct organisms or organizations. Coined by Maturana and Varela, the term combines “auto” meaning “self” and “poiesis” meaning “making,” emphasizing the autonomy and self-organizing nature of living systems. It highlights the unique property of living systems to continuously produce and sustain themselves, contributing to their ongoing existence and self-maintenance.


Behaviour refers to the actions or responses of a system or its parts over time, often influenced by internal and external factors. It is how elements within a system interact with each other and their environment, leading to observable patterns and outcomes. Understanding behaviour helps us understand how a system reacts and manages different situations.

Black Box

A black box, in cybernetics, is a system viewed solely through its inputs and outputs, disregarding its internal workings. This approach simplifies understanding of complex systems, focusing on the relationships between inputs and outputs, without needing to comprehend every detail of internal processes.


A boundary separates a system from its environment. The borders of the system, determined by the observer(s), which define where control action can be taken: a particular area of responsibility to achieve system purposes.
Boundaries are critical in establishing the identity of the system. The decision on where to draw a system’s boundary largely depends on the purpose of the discussion or analysis at hand.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality refers to the limitations people face when making decisions. These limitations arise from the situation, their cognitive abilities, and the information available to them. As a result, people often rely on shortcuts and quick judgments instead of thoroughly analyzing all available options. Rather than seeking the perfect choice, they frequently settle for an option that meets their basic needs. The concept of bounded rationality acknowledges that individuals cannot always make perfectly rational decisions due to their cognitive constraints and the abundance of information in many situations.

Butterfly Effect

The butterfly effect is a metaphor for the unpredictability of complex systems. It suggests that small changes in initial conditions can lead to drastically different outcomes. Edward Lorenz, in his 1972 paper titled “Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas?” discovered this phenomenon in his weather model, where even slight variations in starting points could result in vastly different trajectories. Essentially, the butterfly effect underscores how complex systems are inherently unpredictable.
See Also: Chaos Theory , Lorenz Attractor

Causal Loop

Causal loop refers to the representation of cause-and-effect relationships between variables or components in a system. Causal loops and feedback loops are often used interchangeable. A feedback loop is a more general term that encompasses both positive feedback loops and negative feedback loops. It refers to the mechanism through which the outputs of a system are fed back as inputs, influencing the future behavior of the system. Causal loop specifically refers to the representation of cause-and-effect relationships between variables or components in a system.
See Also: Feedback Loop , Feedback

Chaos Theory

Chaos Theory is a field of study that focuses on the underlying patterns and deterministic laws of dynamical systems. It emphasizes the “butterfly effect”, the concept that minor alterations in a system’s initial conditions can drastically modify its long-term behavior. Despite adhering to fundamental physical laws, Chaos Theory portrays a universe that, while deterministic, is capable of disorder, complexity, and unpredictability. It suggests that predictability is an uncommon phenomenon, operating only within specific constraints that science has identified amidst the vast diversity of our complex world.
See Also: Butterfly Effect , Lorenz Attractor

Closed Systems

A closed system, contrary to an open system, is one that does not exchange information, energy, or material with its environment. However, in reality, completely closed systems rarely exist, and many systems are often treated as closed for simplicity, despite having limited interactions with their surroundings.
See Also: Open Systems


Complexity refers to the condition of systems, objects, phenomena, or concepts that are challenging to understand, explain, or manage due to their intricate and interconnected nature. It involves multiple elements or factors that interact in unpredictable ways, often requiring significant information, time, or coordinated efforts to address.

Complex Adaptive Systems

Complex Adaptive Systems are dynamic and nonlinear that emerge from the interaction of many entities that adapt, learn and evolve in response to feedback and changes in their environment. These entities can be almost anything, such as ants or bees, brain cells, water particles in a weather pattern, or groups of cars or people in a city or town.

Critical Systems Thinking (CST)

Critical systems thinking (CST) sets out how the variety of systems methodologies, methods, and models that have been developed can be used in combination to promote more successful interventions in complex organizational and societal problem situations1.
Critical systems thinking – the idea that systems practitioners should embrace methodological pluralism2.


Cybernetics is a term rooted in the Greek word “kybernetes,” meaning “steersman.” Introduced by Norbert Wiener in 1948, it is defined as the science of “control and communication in the animal and the machine.” Stafford Beer later referred to cybernetics as the science of effective organization.
The cybernetic approach differs from traditional science because it focuses on studying the behaviour of wholes and parts in interaction rather than parts in isolation.
In essence, cybernetics is an interdisciplinary study of how systems – biological, mechanical, or social – communicate, control, and regulate themselves. Its ideas have significantly influenced our understanding of complex systems and their behaviours.

Dissipative Structures

The theory of dissipative structures suggests that although the Universe as a whole is moving towards disorder, there are still open systems within it that maintain their order for a period of time. These entities are negentropic and exist despite the overall increase in entropy.
See Also: Entropy , Negentropy

Dynamics and Loops

Dynamics and Loops refer to the shift from linear cause-and-effect relationships to circular, interconnected ones. This concept emphasizes the importance of feedback loops—where elements within a system influence each other reciprocally. Dynamic loops consider how different components affect one another simultaneously and over time, impacting stability and progression.

Emergent Properties

Emergent properties refer to characteristics of a system that are not just the result of the behaviour of its individual parts. These properties arise from the interactions among the parts, which could not be predicted or explained solely by looking at the parts in isolation. Emergent properties are the product of these interactions, not a sum of the actions of the parts (Gharajedaghi, 2011).


Entropy is a concept in physics that quantifies the degree of disorder or randomness within a physical system, thus signifying its evolutionary state. According to classical thermodynamics, entropy continually increases in the universe, suggesting a constant progression towards greater chaos. This idea symbolizes the “world-machine” gradually running down until it eventually comes to a complete stop 2. In a broader sense, entropy can also be viewed as a measurement of the decay of order.
See Also: Negentropy


In systems thinking, the term “environment” refers to the external context or surroundings in which a system exists and interacts. It comprises all the elements that surround and may impact or be impacted by the system. The environment and the system are interconnected through feedback loops, relationships, and exchanges of matter, energy, and information.
See also: Boundary


Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that explores the nature of knowledge. It focuses on understanding the processes through which we acquire knowledge and evaluating the factors that influence the justification and truth of our beliefs. Epistemology delves into various aspects, including reasoning, evidence, perception, and understanding, all of which are fundamental to our claims of knowledge. In essence, epistemology seeks to answer questions about what knowledge is, how it is acquired, and how we can differentiate between true and false knowledge.
See Also: Ontology


Evolution refers to the continuous and dynamic process of change and development within a system over time. This process encompasses the adaptation and transformation of a system in response to both internal and external influences, leading to shifts in its structure, behaviour, and overall characteristics. Unlike Newtonian mechanics, which is a science focused on forces and trajectories, evolutionary thinking necessitates a new science of complexity as it involves thinking in terms of change, growth, and development.


Feedback involves the return of part of the system’s output as input, creating a loop of information or action that can influence the system’s behaviour. Feedback can be either positive or negative. Positive feedback increases the output in response to an increase in input, while negative feedback reduces the output in response to an increase in input.
See Also: Feedback Loop , Causal Loop

Feedback Loop

Feedback is essential to control. In a well functioning system, feedback loop are designed so that the system is brought back under control in the act of going under control. There are two main types of feedback loops. Positive Feedback Loop, the output of a system reinforces or amplifies its initial behaviour, leading to exponential growth or a reinforcing cycle. This means that any change in the system’s output leads to further changes in the same direction. Positive feedback loops are often associated with self-reinforcing processes and can lead to either exponential growth or a rapid decline in the system. Negative Feedback Loop, the output of a system acts to counteract the initial change or disturbance, thus stabilizing the system and maintaining its equilibrium. Negative feedback loops are essential for maintaining balance and stability in a system by keeping its behaviour in check and preventing extreme deviations.
See Also: Feedback , Causal Loop


A function refers to the distinct purpose, role, or action that a component or subsystem carries out within a larger system. It is how a part contributes to the overall behavior and purpose of the entire system. In essence, a function is what a particular element does to help the whole system achieve its objectives.


The term ‘Gestalt’, originating from Germany, refers to the concept of ‘shape’ or ‘form’. It is central to a branch of psychology that highlights how the mind tends to perceive patterns as more significant than individual elements. This tendency is often experienced when we view a set of dots as a cohesive arrangement instead of separate points. These laws, known as Gestalt laws of perceptual organization, are not limited to psychology alone, but extend to other fields like philosophy, arts, and sciences 1.
The philosopher Christian von Ehrenfels used Gestalt to describe an irreducible perceptual pattern, which gave rise to the well-known phrase, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts,” a concept that later became a foundation in systems thinking 2.


Groupthink, a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis, is a phenomenon that occurs when the desire for harmony within a group leads to poor decision-making.


Systems are generally complex wholes made up of smaller subsystems. This nesting of systems within other systems is what is implied by hierarchy.


Homeostasis is the self-regulating process that enables living organisms to maintain a state of dynamic balance. It ensures stability in the organism’s internal conditions, despite changes in external environments.


Holism is an approach that emphasizes viewing systems as whole entities rather than merely a collection of separate parts. This perspective sees the parts in relation to the entire system, allowing for the understanding of emergence and emergent properties. Russel Ackoff refers to this concept as ‘synthetic thinking’ or ‘Synthesis,’ which focuses on “seeing the whole rather than parts.”


A holon is something that is simultaneously a whole in and of itself, as well as a part of a larger whole.
Soft systems methodology uses the term “holon” to refer a conceptual model, a perspective, of the relevant systems.

Interactive Planning (IP)

Interactive Planning, developed by Russell L. Ackoff, is a strategic approach used to manage complexity in organizations. It leverages the collective knowledge and creativity of all members to construct a plan for the organization’s ideal future. Its primary goal is to guide the organization’s efforts towards realizing this envisioned future. A crucial element of Interactive Planning is the Idealized Design process. This process starts with visualizing the perfect solution and then working backward to the current situation.
See Also: Soft Systems Methodology (SSM)


Interpretivism focuses on subjective experiences and interpreting the meaning from non-measurable aspects of the social world, such as meaning, social action, perspectives, social norms, and discourse. It recognizes that people’s actions and behaviours are influenced by their unique perspectives, cultural backgrounds, and social contexts.
Interpretivism emphasizes the role of language, symbols, and social interactions in shaping our understanding of the world. It values qualitative research methods, such as interviews, observations, and textual analysis, to gain insights into the complexities of human experiences and meanings.


The term ‘isomorphism’ conveys the notion of ‘sameness’. It aims to emphasize that there exist formal resemblances and correspondence among various kinds of systems.

Journey Mapping

Journey mapping is a tool used to visualize the process that a customer goes through in order to accomplish a goal within the system. It helps in understanding the user’s experiences and how the system can be improved to better meet their needs.


Juxtaposition refers to the act of placing two or more elements close together or side-by-side to highlight their differences or similarities. It’s a way of examining relationships and interactions within a system by comparing and contrasting different parts of it.

Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge within an organization. It involves strategies and practices for identifying, creating, representing, and redistributing information. The goal is to ensure the right knowledge is available to the right people at the right time, enhancing learning, decision making, and organizational efficiency.


Leverage Points

Leverage points refer to specific areas within a system where individuals or organizations can focus their efforts in order to achieve the greatest return in relation to their objectives. These points typically offer the highest potential for impact, and can be strategically targeted to achieve desired outcomes. By identifying and targeting leverage points, individuals and organizations can optimize their efforts and resources to achieve maximum results.


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Lorenz Attractor

Lorenz attractor, discovered by the American meteorologist Edward Lorenz, is renowned for its chaotic and unpredictable nature. It demonstrates a sensitive dependence on initial conditions, which means that even minuscule changes in the starting conditions can result in vastly different outcomes over time. This attribute is typical of chaotic systems. Visually, the Lorenz attractor resembles a butterfly, featuring two symmetric wings linked by a slender central region. The wings form an intricate pattern with curves that loop around in a captivating manner.
The Lorenz attractor seems to be in perpetual motion, with the pattern consistently twisting and turning without following a predictable path. It emanates a sense of dynamic and chaotic movement, as though the pattern is freely dancing and flowing within a three-dimensional space.

Mental Model

A mental model is an individual’s thought process or cognitive representation of how something in the world works.  It’s essentially our internal ‘map’ of reality, created through personal experiences, perceptions, and understandings.


The term “mess,” coined by Russell Ackoff, refers to a complex system of interconnected problems that cannot be addressed in isolation. It emphasizes that attempting to solve individual problems within a mess without considering their interconnections would lead to ineffective solutions and potential unintended consequences.


Metaphors are powerful tools that help to form our thinking and effectively convey complex ideas. They provide unique perspectives and influence our actions, allowing us to create new realities and broaden our understanding of the world.


Method or technique refers to the concrete steps or tools used to implement the methodology. Method is associated with the specific systems approach and concerned with achieving more specific procedural outcomes. It is detachable and can be used in the service of other systems approaches.
See also:Methodology


Methodology refers to the logical principles that govern the use of methods in order that the philosophy/theory embraced by the approach is properly respected and appropriately put into practice. It is not detachable from the philosophy/theory of a particular systems approach 1.
See also: Method


Modelling is a process that involves creating an abstract and simplified representation of a system. By examining the system’s components and their relationships, we can gain valuable insights and uncover hidden patterns that drive emergent behaviours. Systems thinking seeks to understand problems in the world around us by modelling them as systems.


Negentropy, also known as negative entropy or syntropy, is the concept that denotes the opposite of entropy. It represents a measure of order, organization, or information within a system. Unlike entropy, which signifies a trend towards disorder, negentropy indicates a system’s ability or potential to resist this disorderly progression, maintaining or even enhancing its level of organization.
See Also: Entropy

Nested Systems

Nested systems are a hierarchical configuration of systems, characterized by smaller systems (subsystem) being embedded within larger ones. In this arrangement, each smaller system forms part of a larger one, which in turn, may be incorporated into an even bigger system. This structure results in a nested or tiered organization, with systems arranged across various levels. 

Organized Complexity

This category involves challenges with multiple interrelated factors forming an organic whole.  For example, developing a brand involves crafting a brand identity, establishing positioning, creating loyalty programs, and developing communication strategies. These intricate interconnections require approaches that navigate the complex web of relationships, beyond simple calculations or traditional statistical methods. Systems thinking is most effective in situations characterized by organized complexity.

See Also: Organized Simplicity, Unorganized Complexity

Organized Simplicity

This category includes situations with straightforward problems characterized by a limited number of components interacting in uncomplicated, predictable ways. 

For example, determining the total cost of groceries when each item has a fixed price or calculating the interest earned on a savings account with a constant interest rate fits into this category.  These situations are easily addressed using mathematical solutions due to their inherent predictability and simplicity

See Also: Unorganized Complexity, Organized Complexity


Ontology is a branch of philosophy that delves into the nature of reality. It involves studying how things exist in the world and the nature of their existence.
Ontology seeks to answer questions about what exists, how different entities relate to each other, and how various categories or concepts are defined. In essence, ontology is about understanding the fundamental aspects and relationships of being and existence.
See Also: Epistemology

Open System

Open systems are systems that interact with their environment by importing and exporting matter and energy. Living organisms are prime examples of open systems. They sustain themselves through a continuous process of inflow and outflow, constantly building up and breaking down components.
See Also: Closed Systems


A paradigm refers to a set of fundamental theories, principles, and techniques that are commonly accepted and followed within a specific field or context. It provides an established framework or model that helps explain and interpret various phenomena.
See Also: Worldview


Pathologies refer to undesirable or dysfunctional behaviours or patterns within a system.
See Also: Archetypes , Patterns


Patterns are refers to a recurring and recognizable behaviour within a system. These patterns are observed in the relationships and interactions between parts of a system.
See Also: Archetypes


Perspective refers to the specific viewpoint from which an individual observes and interprets a system or situation. It is inherently tied to the one’s current position or context, influencing how elements, relationships, and patterns within the system are perceived and understood. Unlike a worldview, which is a border, more fixed way of seeing the world, a perspective can change depending on one’s position within the system.


Philosophy, at its core, is a discipline that explores fundamental questions about the universe, human existence, and our understanding of concepts such as truth, morality, and knowledge. It provides a framework for analyzing arguments, validating practices, and judging the quality of methodological ideas.
In essence, Philosophy uncovers how the mind interacts with and gives meaning to the world through “intentionality”, as described by Jackson1. It acts as the foundation upon which methodology is built, methods are based, and practice is implemented. This foundational nature makes getting the philosophy right a priority, as all subsequent steps depend on it.


Positivism values scientific knowledge and empirical evidence. It operates under the assumption that the best way to understand and explain the world is through observation, measurement, and experimentation. Positivism seeks to find patterns and regularities in how things work and establish cause-and-effect relationships. It values facts and data that can be objectively measured and quantified.


POSIWID is an acronym for “The Purpose Of a System Is What It Does.” It was coined by Stafford Beer, a prominent British management cybernetics.
The concept of POSIWID suggests that a system’s true purpose can be determined by observable behaviour rather than only by its intended goals. In other words, the purpose of a system is not necessarily what it is designed or intended to do but what it actually accomplishes in practice.


Pragmatism is a philosophical movement that originated in the United States during the late 19th century, spearheaded by thinkers such as Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. This approach places emphasis on action, practicality, and interaction with the external world. Pragmatists believe that knowledge is not static or absolute, but rather, it evolves and adapts through human actions and interactions. They view truth as something that is sought after through scientific inquiry and experimentation and not pre-determined or universal. In pragmatism, reality is not a fixed entity but is constantly being shaped and reshaped through actions. It is a philosophy deeply rooted in research and experimentation, justifying beliefs through their practical applications and outcomes.


A quasi-experiment is a research design that resembles a traditional experiment but lacks one key aspect: random assignment. In a quasi-experiment, the researcher doesn’t control group assignment due to practical or ethical limitations. Despite this, it still allows for manipulation of variables and observation of effects, making it a useful tool in fields where full experimental control isn’t feasible.

Radical Constructivism

Radical constructivism emphasizes the active role of individuals or groups in constructing their own understanding of the world. It argues that knowledge is not an objective reality but is created and shaped by individuals through their subjective experiences, perceptions, and mental processes.


Reductionism is an approach that seeks to understand complex systems by breaking them down into simpler components or elements and analyzing them in isolation.


Reflexivity is the conscious practice of self-examination, where one actively questions their own attitudes, thought processes, values, assumptions, prejudices, and habitual actions


In systems thinking, the focus is on relationships rather than the individual elements within a system. These connections—whether causal, correlational, feedback loops, direct, or indirect—are what define and shape the elements they link. By studying how these parts interact and relate to each other, we gain a clearer understanding of complex systems.

Socio-Technical Systems (STS)

Socio-Technical Systems (STS) is a term that originated from the work of Eric Trist, Ken Bamforth, and Fred Emery during the World War II era, based on their experiences with workers in English coal mines at the Tavistock Institute in London.
In the context of organizational development, STS is an approach to intricate organizational work design that acknowledges the interaction between people and technology in workplaces. It pertains to a theory that considers both the social elements of people and society and the technical aspects of organizational structure and processes. Essentially, Socio-Technical Systems emphasizes the importance of considering both social and technical factors when designing, changing, or managing systems in the workplace.

Soft Systems Methodology (SSM)

Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) is an approach for addressing complex and problematic situations. It involves an action-oriented process of inquiry, where users learn about the situation and take steps to improve it. This process employs purposeful action models as intellectual tools to facilitate discussion and exploration of the situation for potential improvements.


In systems thinking, structure refers to the arrangement of parts within a system, the relationships among them and the rules, laws, procedures, and policies that govern those interactions.

The structure determines how information flows, how decisions are made and how actions are taken within a system.

Understanding the structure is crucial for effective system management and intervention.

System Dynamics

System Dynamics was established and developed by Professor Jay Forrester of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the mid-1950s. It is a methodology and modelling technique used to outline, comprehend, and discuss complex issues and problems. The foundation of this method lies in the acknowledgment of the structure of any system to understand the nonlinear behaviour of complex systems over time.

System of Interest

The term “system of interest” refers to identifying a system that a person or group has a particular interest or investment in within a given situation.

System of Systems Methodology (SOSM)

A System of Systems Methodology (SOSM) is a meta-methodological framework that aims to match various systems methodologies with their most suitable application contexts. It serves as a guide for choosing and applying the appropriate system methodologies, depending on the specific nature of the problem at hand. In essence, SOSM enhances decision-making by ensuring the right methodologies are used in the right situations.

Systematic Thinking

Systematic thinking is an analytical approach that scrutinizes individual parts of a system using linear cause-effect mechanisms to understand the whole. It employs step-by-step analysis, evaluation, and repetition, focusing on basic building blocks. This method assumes systems are concrete entities, disregards perspective, and believes the system can be reconstructed post-analysis.

Systemic Thinking

Systemic thinking is a holistic approach that emphasizes the interconnectedness of a system’s parts, recognizing their context and interactions within the whole. It acknowledges multiple perspectives and nonlinear patterns, focusing on organizational principles and processes. Systemic thinking asserts that systems are nested, forming interconnected networks, and that dissecting a system destroys its overall properties.

Systems Engineering

Systems engineering is a discipline that focuses on designing, analyzing, and managing complex systems throughout their life cycle. It involves a holistic approach that considers all aspects of a system, including its components, functions, requirements, and interactions. Systems engineering aims to ensure that the system meets the desired objectives, functions efficiently, and satisfies stakeholder needs. It involves activities such as system specification, design, integration, verification, validation, and maintenance, with a focus on achieving optimal performance, reliability, and safety.


Alexander Bogdanov coined the term “tektology” or “the science of structures” from the Greek word “tekton” which means “builder.” Tektology was the initial effort in the history of science to systematically formulate the principles of organization present in both living and non-living systems.


Uncertainty is a state of unpredictability or lack of certainty about future events, outcomes, or situations due to incomplete, ambiguous, or misunderstood information. This condition makes accurate prediction or decision-making challenging. Uncertainties, which can arise from various factors like unobservability, environmental volatility, rapidly evolving threats, unclear needs, fluctuating resource demand, changing market conditions, and budget shortfalls, lead to risks. These risks are managed through mitigation measures that influence or shape the outcomes.

Unintended Consequences

Unintended consequences are outcomes that occur unexpectedly or without prior intention due to interactions and behaviors within a complex system. They are not part of the system’s original goals or plans.
It is crucial to comprehend unintended outcomes for effective problem-solving, policy-making, and decision-making. This understanding enables the consideration of potential risks and impacts that may not be immediately apparent.

Unorganized Complexity

This category involves problems with numerous parts acting unpredictably, making individual behaviour difficult to predict.

For example, traffic flow dynamics, influenced by various factors like driver decisions and road conditions, can be understood through statistical models that consider the collective behaviour of many drivers and vehicles. These situations are managed using statistics and probability due to their inherent unpredictability.

See Also: Organized Simplicity, Organized Complexity


In cybernetics, variety is the main way to measure the complexity of a system. It refers to the number of possible states a system can have and is essential for making choices and regulating the subject.

Viable System Model (VSM)

Viable System Model (VSM) outlines essential organizational characteristics required for a system to adapt to unexpected environmental changes. VSM is applicable to organizations of all sizes, explaining how systems can efficiently self-organize and withstand internal and external changes.


VUCA is an acronym representing Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. It’s a term used to describe the multifaceted and challenging environment that organizations navigate today. The concept, which originated in the military, has been widely adopted in business and leadership contexts. In a VUCA world, elements interact in complex ways–these elements can be physical and material, socially constituted (like cultures and power structures), or personal (like beliefs, values, fears, and emotions).

Wicked Problem

Wicked Problem is a term coined by Rittel and Webber in 1973 to describe complex issues that are challenging both to define and solve. These problems are typically multifaceted, ambiguous, and steeped in moral, political, and professional implications. They are often dependent on stakeholders’ perspectives, leading to differing views on their nature and potential solutions.
Unique characteristics of wicked problems include their lack of definitive formulation and clear stopping rules. Their solutions aren’t objectively right or wrong but are subjectively evaluated as good or bad. These problems don’t have an immediate or ultimate test of a solution’s efficacy and offer no finite set of potential resolutions. Each wicked problem is essentially unique, often interconnected with other issues, interpretable in various ways, and leaves decision-makers accountable for the outcomes. Thus, addressing a wicked problem requires nuanced understanding and innovative approaches.


A worldview, the German word Weltanschauung, is a encompassing set of beliefs, values, and attitudes that shape an individual’s or group’s understanding of the world around them. It forms the lens through which they interpret their experiences, influences their thoughts, decisions, and actions, and provides a framework for understanding the interconnectedness of life, society, and the universe.


Zero-Sum Game

A Zero-Sum Game is a situation where any gain by one part of the system results in an equal loss by another part of the system. In other words, the sum of all gains and losses is zero. This concept is often used in game theory and economic systems.

Date modified: 2024-05-21

References :

  1. Jackson, Michael. (2019). Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity – (John Wiley & Sons).
  2. Capra, Fritjof. (2014) The Systems View of Life – A Unifying Vision – (Cambridge University Press)
  3. Metcalf, Gary & Kijima, Kyoichi & Deguchi, Hiroshi. (2020). Handbook of Systems Sciences – (Springer), 10.1007/978-981-13-0370-8.
  4. Hoverstadt , Patrick. (2022). The Grammar of Systems  – From order to Chaos and Back – (SCiO Publications)
  5. Ramage, Magnus & Shipp, Karen. (2009). Systems Thinkers – (Springer)

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