Systems thinking can be regarded as a worldview that is based on one’s cognitive frame. I have undertaken detailed study of applied systems thinking projects and highlighted how a systemic “state of mind” can help understanding and approaching complex problems and craft satisficing approaches to address them with or without the use of systems methodologies. Burge (2015), similarly, talks about systems thinking as a “state of mind” that helps grappling with complexity. Henning et al. (2012) talk about the “worldview” of systems thinking. They draw from the work of Laszlo (1996) and highlight that “The systems view perceives connections and communications between people and nature, and emphasizes community and integrity on both the natural and the human world” (p. 10).
Considering ST as a cognitive skill can create greater acceptability of and openness to the discipline from practitioners and researchers outside operations research and management science. This is where Holistic Flexibility comes in and makes an appeal to practitioners to be open to making use of various types of thinking, reasoning, and doing; of anticipating, creating, and negotiating; of managing, enabling, and facilitating; of investigating, modelling, and analyzing.
The conceptual lens of Holistic Flexibility can help deploy systems thinking as a cognitive skill. The following benefits can be accrued:
Considering systems thinking as a cognitive skill also presents the possibility of leveraging alternative means of knowing in systemic methodologies such as metaphors, art, sculpture, and indigenous practices. However, such behaviors of a practitioner also bear a sense of responsibility and they need to understand the philosophical bases of systems thinking.
Considering systems thinking as a cognitive skill also helps in pragmatizing the discipline that will make it more accessible to practitioners working outside traditional OR/MS research. Greater industry adoption of systems thinking will enable practitioners working in complex situations accrue the benefits of a systemic mindset.
Systems thinking as a cognitive skill opens up new avenues for the discipline especially at a time when several studies have shown the power of the unconscious over the rational-analytical within the realm of complex problem-solving. Holistic Flexibility takes systems thinking beyond methodologies, frameworks, and prescriptions and allows practitioners to deliver excellence in a VUCA environment.