Systems Thinking v. Design Thinking

Fast Company’s Fred Collopy writes about Lessons learned – Why the Failure of Systems Thinking Should Inform the Future of Design Thinking.

Last month I read about Systems Thinking and spent an afternoon talking and asking questions about it.

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Design and “design thinking” is gaining recognition as an important integrative concept in management practice and education. But it will fail to have a lasting impact, unless we learn from the mistakes of earlier, related ideas. For instance, “system thinking”, which shares many of the conceptual foundations of “design thinking”, promised to be a powerful guide to management practice, but it has never achieved the success its proponents hoped for. If systems thinking had been successful in gaining a foothold in management education over the last half of the 20th century, there would be no manage by designing movement, or calls for integrative or design thinking.

Callopy argues that Systems Thinking never really captured the imagination of business leaders. And we must learn from its mistakes. He proposes we learn and subscribe to a theory or system of thought that is based on ideas from design and managers and policy makers will become designers of a sort particularly suited to their circumstances.