2013/10 Rethinking Systems Thinking: Learning and Coevolving with the World


David Ing


Much of systems thinking, as commonly espoused today, was developed by a generation in the context of the 1950s to 1980s. In the 2010s, has system thinking changed with the world in which it is to be applied? Is systems thinking learning and coevolving with the world?

Some contemporary systems thinkers continue to push the frontiers of theory, methods and practice. Others situationally increment the traditions of their preferred gurus, where approaches proven successful in prior experiences are replicated for new circumstances.

Founded on interactions with a variety of systems communities over the past 15 years, three ways to rethink systems thinking are proposed:

  1. “Parts and Wholes” Snapshots → “Learning and Coevolving” Over Time
  2. Social and Ecological → Emerged Environments of the Service Economy and the Anthropocene
  3. Episteme and Techne → Phronesis for the Living and Non-living

These proposed ways are neither exhaustive nor sufficient. The degree to which systems thinking should be rethought may itself be controversial. If, however, systems thinking is to be authentic, the changed world of the 21st century should lead systems thinkers to engage in a reflective inquiry.


David Ing, "Rethinking Systems Thinking: Learning and Coevolving with the World", in Systems Research and Behavioral Science, Volume 30, Number 5, (October 2013) pp. 527-547.