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Systems Thinking Alliance
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Systems Thinking Alliance

đŸŒ± Process vs systems, concept of self making

Issue # 3
7 Min Read

In This Issue

In today's "Wisdom Whisper" corner, we delve into the profound insights of Gregory Bateson. His thought-provoking quote emphasizes the importance of thinking in terms of relationships, connections, patterns, and context.

Decoding the Difference between Process and Systems

In the realm of Systems Thinking, the terms ‘process’ and ‘system’ are frequently thrown around. However, these terms have unique meanings and implications that are crucial to understanding this approach. This article aims to demystify these two concepts and highlight their significance in Systems Thinking.

A process, in its simplest form, is a sequence of activities or steps designed to generate a specific outcome. Imagine baking a cake, where you follow a series of steps—mixing ingredients, baking, and decorating—to attain the desired result, a delicious cake. This sequence is represented visually using flow charts, swim lane diagrams, or other tools, showcasing the order of steps and decision-making points.

On the contrary, a system is an interconnected whole that sustains its existence through the mutual interaction of its parts. These components can include people, processes, tools, resources, and more. For instance, consider a restaurant. It’s not just about cooking and serving food (processes), but involves customer service, inventory management, marketing, and many other elements working together.

The goals of systems vary based on their context. A school system’s goal might be to provide quality education, while a healthcare system aims to improve patient health outcomes. Unlike processes, systems have no fixed format. They can be represented using bubble maps, spray diagrams, conceptual maps, rich pictures, causal loop diagrams, stock and flow diagrams, depending on the chosen approach.

Processes and systems are fundamentally different, yet they coexist and interrelate in our complex world. A process focuses on the execution of activities to produce desired results, typically linear and with a defined start and end. In contrast, a system is a dynamic, interconnected network of components that collectively contribute to the whole’s functioning.

Understanding the distinction between process and system is vital to applying Systems Thinking effectively. It helps us recognize that while individual processes are crucial, they are parts of a larger system. This perspective enables us to approach problems holistically, considering the wider context and interconnectedness of parts rather than focusing on isolated elements.

By appreciating these differences, we can better leverage Systems Thinking to address complex challenges, from organizational change to sustainable development, and create more effective, resilient interventions.



This month, we’re exploring a fascinating term: “Autopoiesis.” Autopoiesis, as its Greek roots suggest (“auto” meaning “self” and “poiesis” meaning “making”), is all about the ability of a living system to make itself.

This term was first coined by Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. They used it to describe the unique characteristic of living organisms or organizations that can create, recreate, and maintain themselves. It’s about being self-sustaining and autonomous, much like a tree that produces its own seeds, which then grow into new trees, continuing the cycle.

But how does this apply to us in practical terms? Consider a thriving business. It creates products or services, which generate revenue, allowing it to pay its employees and invest in more resources—thus, continuously sustaining and growing itself, just like a living organism. That’s autopoiesis in action!

Understanding autopoiesis helps us recognize and appreciate the self-organizing nature of life around us, be it in nature, businesses, or even our personal lives. The concept can give us valuable insights into how to create resilient, self-sustaining systems.

Want to learn more about systems thinking? Check out the glossary on our website for easy-to-understand explanations


Profound Quote from Systems Thinker

Unraveling the Essence of Systems Thinking with Gregory Bateson. This month, we delve into the profound wisdom encapsulated in a quote by Gregory Bateson, a British anthropologist and social scientist. His words, “Championed a new way of thinking, which is extremely relevant to our time – thinking in terms of relationships, connections, patterns, and context.” beautifully capture the essence of Systems Thinking.

Systems Thinking is a paradigm shift from traditional linear thinking. Instead of focusing on isolated components or events, it emphasizes the interconnectedness of parts within a whole. Bateson’s quote underscores this shift, advocating for an understanding based on relationships and connections.

In a world where everything is intricately linked—from the ecosystems that sustain life to the global economy—this perspective is not just relevant but critical. It allows us to see how changes in one part of a system can ripple across the entire system, often in unexpected ways. For instance, how deforestation (a single action) can impact local climate, biodiversity, and even global carbon levels (the wider system).

Bateson also highlights the importance of ‘patterns’ and ‘context.’ Patterns refer to recurring structures or behaviors in a system over time. Recognizing these patterns can help us predict future system behavior and devise proactive solutions. On the other hand, ‘context’ reminds us that systems do not exist in isolation; they are embedded within larger systems. For example, a business operates within the context of an industry, which in turn is part of an economy, society, and the global environment.

By championing this holistic, relational approach, Bateson’s quote resonates deeply with contemporary challenges—from climate change to public health crises—that demand integrated, systemic interventions. It serves as a powerful reminder that, to navigate our complex world effectively, we must step out of our silos and embrace the rich tapestry of connections, patterns, and contexts that define our reality.

In the words of Bateson, let’s champion a new way of thinking—one that honors the intricate dance of relationships and connections, recognizes patterns, and appreciates the broader context. Only then can we hope to address our shared challenges effectively and sustainably.


Unlock Your Future with CSTA Certification

Ready to take your problem-solving skills to the next level? The Certified Systems Thinking Associate (CSTA) program offers a comprehensive introduction to systems thinking, equipping you with the tools to navigate and solve complex challenges in various sectors, including government, healthcare, education , finance, and technology. By understanding and applying systems thinking concepts, you can differentiate between complex, wicked problems and more straightforward issues, recognize VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) characteristics, and utilize key system mapping techniques effectively. The CSTA certification is not just about acquiring new skills; it’s about showcasing your dedication to continuous learning and personal growth.

Register your interest now for the September session to enjoy exclusive super early bird savings! Secure your spot today. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to enhance your career and make a real impact using systems thinking.

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