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  • MSc
  • Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking

Course Description

This course is designed to encourage students to go beyond the linear, causal, planning oriented models often prescribed in business courses. Instead, it is about learning to recognize and manage the complexity inherent in organizations and their broader environment. Each business organization is an open system, yet we often treat businesses as closed, controlled contexts. This way of thinking made sense when the environment of the organization changed slowly. However, today’s business world is being buffeted by disruptions coming at a speed and volume that have never been seen before. Using old ways of dealing with business issues will no longer be effective.

This course will focus on the influence of specific recent disruptions (e.g., artificial intelligence, climate change, human tracking, public health crises, migration, water and food scarcity, etc.) and offer tools that will help students better manage a business environment that has become increasingly volatile. Systems thinking will enable students to consider how all parts of the system are interdependent. They will become more able to find and work leverage points that influence critical business outcomes. For example, students will learn how system interconnections are influenced by information flow, finding and building feedback loops, how systems behave, and where and how to intervene to achieve desired systemic change.

Learning Outcomes

This course is about thinking expansively and acting deliberately in response to certain managerial, organizational, and societal problems. You will play games, wrestle with puzzles, and tell stories. You work in teams to tackle a real-time problem of an organization assigned to your team. Think of it as live cases. The difference is that you’re the author of the case, and as the course goes on, you will discover different aspects of the case. In the process, you will discover how complex patterns or systems’ behaviour can arise from simple structures and simple rules. You will draw on such insights to develop a deeper understanding of many managers' or organizations' issues or problems. You will develop new toolkits and ‘thinkways’ for analyzing complex issues, modeling their structures, and hypothesize where and how to intervene.

Along the way, you will read about the theory and practice of systems thinking. Although it is quite impossible to package the history of systems theory in a single course, you will develop an appreciation for how it provides new ways of seeing, thinking, and acting. You may even want to study the relationships between the most important global challenges of the twenty-first century, including globalization, climate change, conflict, democracy, energy, health & wellbeing, and security. This course aims to develop new perspectives to help you learn thinking-and-acting in a systems’ ways. At the end of the course, you will:

  • Understand the basic tenets of systems thinking;
  • Know when and how to use systems thinking principles to solve real-world situations;
  • Articulate and illustrate cause and effect relationships, develop predictions, and provide scenario analyses using systems thinking;
  • Become more confident and comfortable in using systems thinking to assess, critique and evaluate complex business situations; and,
  • Become adept at identifying how systems thinking can be used in a business context.


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