Why Systems Thinking is Not a Natural Act


MIT SDM Systems Thinking Webinar Series

Ricardo Valerdi, Associate Professor, University of Arizona

Date: August 22, 2011

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About the Presentation

Ricardo ValerdiCompetence in systems thinking is implicitly assumed among the population of engineers and managers — in fact, most technical people claim to be systems thinkers. But this competence is not as prevalent as these assertions might lead one to assume. Controlled experiments show that systems thinking performance, even among highly educated people, is poor. This presentation provides a set of systems thinking competencies and demonstrates how these are not as common as advertised. We also discuss how these competencies can be measured.

The main thesis is that systems thinking is not a natural act because (1) evolution has favored mechanisms tuned to dealing with immediate surface features of problems and (2) the Western education system tends to emphasize reductionist approaches. We discuss the implications of the current state and provide recommendations for closing the gap between the demand and supply of systems thinking through the use of systems thinking flight simulators. Finally, key takeaways are provided for the application of systems thinking across a variety of scenarios.

About the Speaker

Now an associate professor at the University of Arizona, Ricardo Valerdi was formerly a research associate in the Lean Advancement Initiative in the Engineering Systems Division at MIT.

Dr. Valerdi is a two-time recipient of the Best Thesis Advisor Award in the MIT Technology & Policy Program, the Best Article of the Year Award in the Systems Engineering Journal, and Best Paper Awards at the INCOSE Symposium, Conference on Systems Engineering Research and International Society of Parametric Analysts.

His research focuses on systems engineering metrics, cost estimation, test & evaluation, human systems integration, enterprise transformation, and performance measurement. His research has been funded by Army Test & Evaluation, Navy Acquisition Research Program, Air Force Office of the Surgeon General, Air Force Acquisition Chief Process Office, BAE Systems, and the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

Dr. Valerdi is the co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Enterprise Transformation, served on the Board of Directors of the International Council on Systems Engineering, and is a senior member of the IEEE. He received his BS/BA in electrical engineering from the University of San Diego in 1999, and his MS and PhD degrees in systems architecting and engineering from the University of Southern California in 2002 and 2005.

About the Series

The MIT System Design and Management Program Systems Thinking Webinar Series features research conducted by SDM faculty, alumni, students, and industry partners. The series is designed to disseminate information on how to employ systems thinking to address engineering, management, and socio-political components of complex challenges.