Rethinking systems thinking: Learning and coevolving with the world

David Ing*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Much of systems thinking, as commonly espoused today, was developed by a generation in the context of the 1950s-1980s. In the 2010s, has systems thinking changed with the world in which it is to be applied? Is systems thinking learning and coevolving with the world? Some contemporary systems thinkers continue to push the frontiers of theory, methods and practice. Others situationally increment the traditions of their preferred gurus, where approaches proven successful in prior experiences are replicated for new circumstances. Founded on interactions with a variety of systems communities over the past 15years, three ways to rethink systems thinking are proposed: 'parts and wholes' snapshots → 'learning and coevolving' over time social and ecological → emerged environments of the service economy and the Anthropocene episteme and techne → phronesis for the living and nonlivingThese proposed ways are neither exhaustive nor sufficient. The degree to which systems thinking should be rethought may itself be controversial. If, however, systems thinking is to be authentic, the changed world of the 21st century should lead systems thinkers to engage in a reflective inquiry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)527-547
Number of pages21
JournalSystems Research and Behavioral Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2013
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Coevolution
  • Learning
  • Systems thinking
  • World


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