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What is Systems Thinking?

Published on
28 October 2019
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Whilst the terms “system” or “systems” in everyday language have often come to mean something to do with digital technology, they are used in a much wider context in HFE.

The system here includes the human, plus anything that the human interacts with in their everyday lives or whilst doing a task.

Consider what you are interacting with now in order to read this article – there will be the technology it appears on (laptop, phone, etc); the chair you may be sitting on; a desk you may be using; the environment you are within (which includes considerations such as lighting levels, temperature, space around you); any distractions that may draw your attention away (someone speaking to you, a radio playing in the background, something happening to draw your eyes away from the screen); your physical state (are you tired, hungry, need to go to the loo?).

There are many more things that could be taken into consideration depending on your individual situation. In HFE, we refer to all of these components as a “system”.

So what does this mean?

Well, it means that whilst trying to accomplish the task of reading this article, you are constantly interacting with these system elements, even if you don’t notice them, and this interaction will influence how successfully you complete your task.

This general principle holds true for everything we do in life. Looking at work, tasks, events, etc from a systems thinking perspective, means looking at all these elements and taking them into account when understanding what is happening when humans make decisions or take actions, and when trying to improve working and living. The more successfully this can be done, the more successful the outcome will be.

Taking a systems thinking perspective also aids a move away from a narrow-perspective blame culture.

Blaming someone for an action without understanding what in the system caused them to take that action means that the underlying causes of incidents will very rarely be uncovered, staff feel unfairly treated and – most importantly – the same issue can arise again as the underlying causes have not been addressed.

Understanding why people act the way they do through a systems thinking perspective means that underlying causes can be identified and addressed to reduce the possibility of the incident reoccurring.

At MedLed, systems thinking is at the heart of everything we do, whether looking at work systems and design, human-to-human interaction, or a mixture of the two. This is why our approach means that you will always get a well-rounded view of your workplaces, considering all the elements within them to fully support and enhance human performance and wellbeing.