Peter Senge identifies Systems thinking as the fifth discipline of learning organisation because it is the means for integrating the other 4 four disciplines (personal mastery, mental models, shared vision and team learning)
We tend to think of organisations as being more like machines than living systems. We speak of “running the organisation”, “owners of the business” and leaders who “drive change”. The language is appropriate for a car.
However, it becomes problematic when people are involved. If you try to “drive” your partner or your children – your force will be met with an at least equal and opposite resistance.
Dee Hock (former CEO of Visa) wrote that in nature “order continually emerges from seeming chaos, while in management we always try to impose order because we fear that chaos will take over”.
Learning as fast (and ideally faster) than the pace of change is essential to sustainability. That can no longer be done through traditional top-down approaches. Equally learning needs some structure and method to avoid total chaos.
Nature points towards basic methods that work such as sensing patterns, recombining ideas into a “mutation” and being open to feedback. Systems mapping, pattern analysis, experimentation, collaboration, and dialogue are their organisational equivalents.
Systems thinking enables us to see patterns more clearly so that we can “learn how to learn” to change the system.