Integrated – systems thinking and complexity

Systems (or systemic) thinking

There are ways of thinking that help us to become more balanced in our understandings, less baffled, more able to live with uncertainty and therefore less anxious. These ways can help us to see the world in an integrated (and therefore holistic way) so that we are not trapped within linear causal thinking.

fish-camp-streamThere are various sorts of systems thinking: complexity is one of them. Here is a short and easy-to-read essay on thinking systemically by Martin Sandbrook (teaches at Schumacher Institute, Bristol). Notice that this is not only about taking different perspectives, but integrating the world as a dynamic, ‘unfolding process’ – the so-called ‘divergent’ way of working with  properties emerging from this unfolding reality.

Extract from Martin Sandbrook’s essay:

“For me, ‘systems thinking’ is a way of being. It involves a way of seeing or interpreting the world through thought and feeling. It is an attitude of open-ness, of inquiry, of looking from many perspectives, inner and outer, of holding, or trying to hold, an awareness of my own beliefs and assumptions, of noticing my reaction to things, of understanding the world as an unfolding process where everything is in relation to everything else.…. as if it were a mountain stream, bubbling along as a continuous, self-organising constantly-changing-but-staying-the-same process of unfolding…[and where] …emergent change will be welcomed… The attitude will be one of inquiry and experiment, of moving to next base and then reviewing.”

See more at:

Systems (or systemic) thinking – so what?


Complexity is a special kind of systems thinking. It is very good for natural systems such as human beings and human society, but also environmental issues. It provides us with both a theory and a language, giving the left hemisphere the wherewithal to appreciate the intuitive pattern-making that the right hemisphere does so naturally. Iain McGilchrist’s ‘Emissary’ (left hemisphere) might then be prepared to listen and cooperate with the ways of the ‘Master’ (right hemisphere) (see above). This is a coming-of-age story – our left hemispheres need to grow up and respect the intuition and wisdom emerging from our right hemisphere.

Below is a quotation from another short and easy-to-read essay, this time on Complexity Theory, by Anthony L Suchman (Professor of Medicine, University of Rochester, USA). This unpicks the way complexity conceptualises the underlying processes in nature.

Linearity, Complexity and Well-being

“A non-linear or complexity-based approach … recognizes the bi-directional influence that is present in most relationships: A influences B and at the same time B influences A. Causality is bi-directional rather than unidirectional, and this changes everything. Over multiple cycles of these back and forth feedback interactions, the relationship between A and B takes on a number of important new properties….[This includes] minutely small differences or disturbances …culminating in transformational changes to the entire system…popularly referred to as the ‘Butterfly Effect’. …Complexity culminates in a quest for relation, reminding us to pay attention to our surroundings and our relationships. And that, to me, seems like a major contribution to improving well-being…”