Limitations of Systems Thinking LO26084

From: Gavin Ritz (
Date: 02/08/01

Replying to LO25887 --

Hi Malcolm

I have been on a long holiday and have kept this to answer your questions
and issues. Firstly I have said many times that Systems Thinking is okay
only up to a point. Beyond a certain point of complexity it is totally
inept. One just has to read Limits to Growth to see the myopia.

That of course does not make ST bad but rather one must know when and
where to use it.

Secondly in a conference I did a presentation on some motive modeling and
I asked the audience (who had been to the Senge and other presentations).
What is behind the values, archetypes, causal looping. Or for that matter
what is behind (what makes it tick) Managerial cybernetics. Nobody could
come up with an answer.

All models and theories have their limitations. I think those who develop
and use them are aware of the limitations (well I hope so).

Some of the answers lie in energy and entropy production and emergences
issues. Who knows?

gavin wrote:

> In recent weeks, I have twice encountered assertions by significant
> members of our LO community that many/most of the approaches engendered by
> "The Fifth Discipline" are unlikely to produce real organizational change.
> To wit:
> 1. In the most recent "Systems Thinker" (11/10, December/January
> 2000-01), Jay Forrester declares,
> "The activity called 'systems thinking,' which is talking about systems,
> recognizing there are systems,... is really at the level of the one-day
> first-aid course. It is not sufficient for understanding the dynamics of
> the organization. ... The introduction from systems thinking is not strong
> enough and not persuasive enough to reverse detrimental policies that are
> strongly held, because there's no solid basis for the argument to change."
> 2. Responding to Peter David Stroh's article, "Leveraging Change: The
> power of Systems Thinking in Action," in the most recent issue of
> Reflections: the SoL Journal," Nelson Repenning at MIT's Sloan School
> says, with reference of the use of ST archtypes, "While students of
> systems thinking should be deeply familiar with the archetypes and the
> stories that underlie them, in my view, they do not constitute a useful or
> appropriate starting point for an intervention. ... I am not willing to
> accept the assertion that these were the best tools for the issue at hand
> or that there is necessarily a causal linkage between the intervention and
> the improved results." He suggests that anecdotal reports of the efficacy
> of ST methodologies are not sufficient to recommend their use.


Gavin Ritz <>

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