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A Systemic Approach

"The grass does not grow faster by pulling on it"

[African proverb]

The systemic approach - why it works and how to deal with it. And what that has to do with the current corona pandemic.

By Peter Roth, February 10, 2021

The systemic approach in the organization, and in other disciplines

Since my further education at the University of Zurich almost 20 years ago, I have been actively involved with the systemic approach. Systemic means concerning the whole system, not to be confused with systematic, which means according to a fixed plan or system. I use the systemic approach primarily for the design of social systems such as teams and organizations and the management of projects. It's a huge field of work.

It is also the basis for topics such as self-organization, self- and external control, complexity, identity, information and communication, cooperation, lateral leadership and control, conflicts, right up to power and micropolitics. Most of them can also be found, for example, in agile working approaches. With the application of this approach and the examination of this topic I became aware that, like many of us in the past, I already applied this approach in various areas, not only in social but also in technical systems, and rather unconsciously and therefore probably less consequently. For example, during my time in chemical pharmaceutical and agricultural research, but also in problem solving or finding solutions in projects. The systemic approach is also of central importance in other areas such as ecology, economics and medicine.

Systemic approach in innovation and root cause analysis

The systemic approach also provides significant support in promoting innovation with the conscious opening or encapsulation of the system and the expansion or reduction of complexity.

However, the systemic approach is also very helpful in researching the causes in order to identify blind spots and connections. In the current corona pandemic, it could also help to understand the real causes. Perhaps it is not the sole fault of an animal market in Wuhan, China, or a particular species of bat, which a WHO commission has just investigated. Maybe it's part of something bigger, a whole (a system)? Perhaps the cause of Corona, but also the increase in epidemics and pandemics, is much more fundamentally to be found in the destructive, global influence of people in nature, which is destroying important habitats on this earth with deforestation, concreting, pollution and the exploitation of resources thereby exterminating animals, insects and plants, which are actually all an important part of the system and are now missing.

In the case of complex problems, it is important to understand the entire system and the higher-level relationships in order to implement the correct, most effective measures. Only in this way can complexity be controlled and the whole thing does not end in chaos. And finally, such problems as described above not only harbor risks but also always great opportunities, also for innovations, if you understand the system itself, the connections and then the causes of the problem!

Findings and handling of the systemic approach

The systemic approach resulted in important findings for me that everything is connected in a system and is accordingly more or less dependent on one another. And that a system is mostly in another system, which in turn has dependencies. If you are aware of this, you will recognize the unbelievable complexity but also the huge potential that lies behind it. It makes it possible to see connections as to why something is or is happening. It allows a person, a team or an organization to judge how one can react sensibly to this or act even better in advance, and where one can actively control the situation and the course? Or one realizes that at least with reasonable effort one has no influence on an event or situation or does not want to have it, but can handle it in a positive sense.

The current example of the corona pandemic shows that a systemic approach can help to build up a holistic view in order to recognize relationships and to define the right measures with the greatest, best but also most efficient effect. Only when the real, fundamental causes are recognized, not only can symptoms be combated, but problems can also be solved sustainably. In some cases, such measures require considerable changes and investments, which, however, pay off again in the long term and also contain immense economic and innovative potential. A lot is always connected in a system.