Systems Thinking Is a Way Term Paper

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They must never become complacent and assume that they have considered all factors and can now relax, or they can slip into the "boiling frog" phenomenon: circumstances may turn so gradually negative that they do not notice the changes until they have large problems instead of small ones to solve (Beckford, 2002).


Just as the example of the soldiers at the bridge faced with a battle situation for which they had no previous experience, business leaders must expect the unexpected. If they create a culture of lifelong learning within their businesses, their staff and employees will always be open to looking at old facts in new ways, ready to find forward-thinking solutions. Such a company philosophy and structure can keep even the oldest company packed with fresh ideas and innovative solutions to the new problems they face.

Annotated Bibliography

Barker, Randolph T., and Camarata, Martin R. 1998. "The Role of Communication in Creating and Maintaining a Learning Organization: Preconditions, Indicators, and Disciplines." The Journal of Business Communication, Vol. 35.

Barker and Camarata look at communication concepts that help or hinder the use of systems thinking, arguing that communication is the method by which organizational learning takes place. They note multiple factors related to communication that must be present, including trust between colleagues, commitment to chosen courses of action, and a perception of organizational support for employees, so employees will feel they have a vested interest in how well the company does. They use Kodak's difficulties at the end of the 1980's as a case study.

Beckford, John. Quality. 2002.

Based on systems thinking, this book is divided into four sections. First the author looks at the importance of quality performance and the things that can block a company from being the best that it can be. Then considerable space is given to leaders in the imovement to transform businesses into more functional entities. Such people as John S. Oakland, who developed the concept of "Total Quality Management," are covered in depth. Considerable space is given to organizational learning, focusing on system beliefs that can prevent real growth including the "boiling frog" phenomenon and the pitfalls of counting on learning from experience. The author covers the topic of building quality with both depth and breadth, and provides business leaders with specific tools they can use in their quest for quality.

Clute, Peter W. 1999. "Change at an Oil Refinery: Toward the Creation of a Learning Organization." Human Resource Planning, Vol. 22.

This article describes how the business unit management team and the organizational development design team collaborated to enable change at the cultural level of a refinery-based business unit of an international oil company. The interventions were intentionally designed to enable change at the level of thinking and acting. It gives details on specific actions they took to make sure the old culture in place didn't find ways to thwart needed change, and the article discusses the problems that needed to be solved, and how they solved them, in depth.

Gunasekara, Chrys. 2003. "Project-Based Workplace Learning: A Case Study." SAM Advanced Management Journal, Vol. 68.

This paper assists in bridging the gap by suggesting a practical approach to workplace learning that is linked with organizational objectives and integrated with project management. They include a case study from an Australian agency, describing the organization's difficulties in detail and how they were overcome to improve the agency's functioning. The article streamlines the process of using current literature on systems thinking and related approaches to provide a model for converting theory into practical realities.

Martin, Gregg F., and Mccausland, Jeffrey D. 2001. "Transforming Strategic Leader Education for the 21st-Century Army." Parameters, Vol. 31.

The authors apply systems thinking to today's military problems. They note that the nature of warfare has changed and with it, the kinds of decisions that have to be made. using an example from Bosnia, they describe how relatively low-level command officers may have to make decisions when faced with complex and unclear situations, such as civilians attacking armed soldiers. The authors provide detailed ways to fit systems thinking into military training at multiple levels, demonstrating that the approach can be used to cover a variety of decision-making situations.

Mccann, Joseph. 2004. "Organizational Effectiveness: Changing Concepts for Changing Environments." Human Resource Planning, Vol. 27.

This article traces the evolution of those concepts and their application across a broad variety of management fields. Two critically important emerging qualities or dimensions of effectiveness -- organizational agility and organizational resiliency -- are defined and explored in terms of their implications for HR professionals. The author Includes a history of thought leading to systems thinking, and divides the process of systems thinking into four steps: sense-making, transforming knowledge, acting decisively, and aligning and re-aligning resources.

O'Callaghan, William G., Jr. 2004. "Think like Peter Senge: applying his laws of systems thinking to identify patterns that shape behavior." School Administrator. November.

The author explains Senge's laws of systems thinking for school administrators and demonstrates their importance when making crucial, long-term decisions. He uses the example of deciding when to pass a tax levy and points out that this choice has both short-term and long-term effects. He uses Stenge's laws to challenge conventional wisdom on this important school management point and urges school districts to think more creatively about their problem-solving strategies.

Sherwood, Dennis. 2000. Seeing the Forest for the Trees: A Manager's Guide to Applying Systems Thinking.

Sherwood's book demonstrates ways to provide structure and order to complex sets of facts so they can be studied using systems thinking. The book is divided into four sections. In "Taming Complexity, he uses examples to demonstrate how systems thinking can be used to define and evaluate issues. In "Tools and Techniques" he discusses the basic concepts of systems thinking in more detail and looks at the various ways information can be illustrated using such things as causal loop diagrams. In the "Applications" section, he takes the techniques and applies them to real-life scenarios, and demonstrates ways to build consensus. In the last section, "Laboratory of the Future," he looks at system dynamics and how they affect systems thinking. Sherwood uses wide-ranging examples, including the effect of tea on the Industrial Revolution, possible future stock market fluctuations and public policy, giving the book's discussions breadth as well as depth.

Swanson, Richard A., and Torrco, Richard J. 1995. "The Strategic Roles of Human Resource Development." Human Resource Planning, Vol. 18.

Swanson and Torrco discuss how the Human Resources Department must not only support but play an active part in a company's overall business strategy. Because of this they must be an integral part in any kind of systems thinking. The authors give multiple examples, such as the type of traning given to employees as well as their efforts to maintain the quality of employees' work. How such HR goals are achieved will have a profound effect on company culture and must be part of the company's overall plan.

Vogelsang-Coombs, Vera. 1997. "Governance Education: Helping City Councils Learn." Public Administration Review, Vol. 57.

This article tightly focuses on how one group can become dysfunctional -- city councils. The authors suggest ways city councils can learn to function more effectively. While it remains to be seen if city councils, as a group, would put in the time and effort to…[continue]

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