We all live inside systems. We live inside ecosystems and societies and we work within systems called companies or local authorities or schools. I make my living helping organisations put together environmental management systems but this is only a formalising and regularising of an already existent system and part of a bigger organisational system. When we try to change a system we have to think about how it operates at the moment.
Wikipedia defines systems thinking as 'the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization healthy or unhealthy.'
The article referenced above was written by Donella Meadows and talks about how we look for leverage points where we insert our lever and push. Unfortunately, as she notes, we usually seem to push in the wrong direction. She identifies 10 leverage points and orders them in effectiveness from numbers (taxes etc) to the power to transcend paradigm. It may sound a little dry but have a look. Just a taster, from material stocks and flows:
'When the Hungarian road system was laid out so all traffic from one side of the nation to the other had to pass through central Budapest, that determined a lot about air pollution and commuting delays that are not easily fixed by pollution control devices, traffic lights, or speed limits. The only way to fix a system that is laid out wrong is to rebuild it, if you can.
Often you can't, because physical building is a slow and expensive kind of change. Some stock-and-flow structures are just plain unchangeable.'
I particularly liked the example given, in the goals of the system, about Ronald Reagan. Go look.