Sacred Care for Self, Others, Humanity & Earth

Sacred Care for Self, Others, Humanity & EarthSacred Care for Self, Others, Humanity & Earth

Systems Thinking for a Sustainable Planet


For humans to continue evolving on Earth 

we need to create sustainable political and economic systems 

that care for nature. 

We need to educate 

adults, teens and children

to think systemically. 

The path to a sustainable future will 

require individual and systemic change.

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Systems Thinking for a Sustainable Planet (pdf)


Personal to the Social, Political, Economic & Earth System

The What & How of Systems

  •  Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way a system's parts interrelate.
  • It also focuses on how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems.
  • Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole.

  • In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements work together to survive or perish:

  1. Air
  2. Water
  3. Land, Soil
  4. Movement
  5. Temperature
  6. Plants
  7. Insects
  8. Fish
  9. Birds
  10. Reptiles
  11. Mammals
  12. Humans


  • Systems thinking is a method to analyze the relationships between the system's parts, to understand the potential for better decision-making.

  • The system isn't just a collection of things, it consists of elements, interconnections and a purpose.

  • Systems Thinking can be used to:

  1.  Identify or clarify a problem
  2.  Increase creative discussion
  3.  Promote inquiry and challenge preconceived ideas
  4.  Bring out the validity of multiple perspectives
  5.  Make assumptions explicit
  6.  Sift out major issues and factors
  7.  Find the systemic causes of stubborn problems

  • Systems thinking is a powerful approach for understanding the nature of why situations are the way they are, and how to go about improving results.

  • Historical perspective is important in understanding the evolution of a situation and in identifying patterns of behaviors over time.
  • The benefits of systems thinking are it allows organizations and individuals to take full advantage of any element within their system.

  • Problem Loving is a process where rather than avoiding complexity, systems thinking helps individuals discover the exciting opportunities that problems offer for innovation and creative development.

  • Systems thinking is all about understanding and working with complexity and chaos.


  • It is the antithesis of reductive, linear thinking, which results in siloed and marginalized outcomes when applied to a business or problem-solving context.

  • Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole.

  • Systems can be natural (in nature) or designed.

  • They can be open, closed or isolated.

  • In engineering there are four types:

  1. A product system
  2. A service system
  3. An enterprise system
  4. A system of systems

  • Systems management is the combination of four key elements which are all needed to manage a system efficiently and effectively: 

  1. Processes
  2. Data
  3. Tools
  4. Organization

  • Processes deal with how to perform the task.

  • The definition of a system is a set of rules, an arrangement of things, or a group of related things that work toward a common goal.

  • An example of a system are the laws and procedures of a democratic government.

Why Think Systemically?

Our world  is a system within the solar system and the universe. 

To solve world problems will require systems thinking. 

The Earth Solutions Project will require people who think creatively and understand their solutions need to fit into the Whole Earth System.


Understanding Systems to Solve World Problems

We are Interacting Systems within systems

  • An example of a system is all the organs that work together for digestion.

  • There are 11 main systems of the human body. 
  • The 11 organ systems of the body are:
  • Integumentary
  • Muscular
  • Skeletal
  • Nervous
  • Circulatory
  • Lymphatic
  • Respiratory
  • Endocrine
  • Urinary /excretory
  • Reproductive
  • Digestive 
  • Although each of your 11 organ systems has a unique function, each organ system also depends, directly or indirectly, on all the others. 

  • Key concepts of systems theory: 

  1. Systems: An organized entity made up of interrelated and interdependent parts. 
  2. Boundaries: Barriers that define a system and distinguish it from other systems in the environment. 
  3. Homeostasis: The tendency of a system to be resilient towards external factors and maintain its key characteristics.

  • The 8 major systems of an automobile are:

  1. Engine
  2. Fuel system
  3. Exhaust system
  4. Cooling system
  5. Lubrication system
  6. Electrical system
  7. Transmission
  8. Chassis including the wheels, tires, brakes, suspension and the body 

  • A systems-based approach uses a standardized set of management steps that are sequential and may be applied to any major undertaking. This dictates that overarching objectives, strategies, and tactics are established to promote effective response management and consistency.

  • Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system's constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems.

  • According to systems thinking, system behavior results from the effects of reinforcing and balancing processes.

  • Whole systems approaches are a useful way of looking at participation because organizations must change at every level, from senior management to front line staff, if they want to achieve meaningful participation.

  • The five disciplines of learning organizations are:

  1. Building a Shared Vision. In learning organizations, the vision should be created through interaction with the employees in the enterprise 
  2. Systems Thinking 
  3. Mental Models 
  4. Team Learning
  5. Personal Mastery

  • We need to teach systems thinking to adults, teens and children who are open to transforming our present political and economic systems to be life enhancing to create an environmentally sustainable planet. 

Solving World Problems

To solve world problems will require systems thinking. 

The Earth Solutions Project needs people who think creatively and understand their solutions need to fit into the Whole Earth System.

Much of human history has seen humans be a 

competitive, warring, brutal, enslaving and exploitative species, 

with glimpses of empathy, ethics, law, higher consciousness

and collaboration.  

We need to evolve rapidly to survive by

creating a much better educated species that is 

wise, conscious, compassionate, collaborative and co-creative

to develop a planetary system that includes

education, politics, economics and the

environment for sustainability. 

Systems Education for A Thriving Planet


Systems Within Systems

"Part of the problem is that, globally, nationally and personally, we face crises that can be described as 'complex' or 'wicked' problems. Complexity is recognizable in situations which have multiple variables in ever shifting contexts of interdependency. Some examples of complex living systems are oceans, cities, families, economic systems, culture, the health of our own bodies, and the medical systems we expect to support them.

In each of these systems, vitality is produced by multiple processes in contextual interaction. To study a jungle is to recognize that the jungle itself is not an isolated 'thing' but instead exists in the interrelationship between soil, foliage, animals, weather patterns, bacteria and so on. The same contextual linkings can be found in all living systems; approaching the system without an understanding of this holism will create short circuits in the complexity and countless unintended consequences. Making sense of the vitality of a complex system is an inquiry into its way of making contact. A study of the relational patterns gives entirely different understanding of the way in which a system is cohering."


Nora Bateson, President

International Bateson Institute


Hard & Soft Systems

"The classification of systems into hard and soft represents an effort to draw attention both to the degree of knowledge about a system, and about the system's aims or purposes. Checkland developed this classification to represent two ends of a continuum.

Hard systems are more easy to define and have more clear-cut aims or purposes. They are typically the subject matter of engineers concerned with real-world problem-solving: mechanisms, machines, aircraft, and power plants are examples. Simplicity of purpose and clarity of boundary, however, do not necessarily mean ease of design, operation, or maintenance: hard systems, as we know, can indeed be highly complex.

At the other extreme are soft systems, characterized by human beings as their principal components. Such systems are difficult to define; they do not have clear-cut and agreed aims or purposes. At the level of the individual psyche there are multiple processes of perception, interpretation, representation, explanation, and communication that push and pull at our individual and collective cognitive maps as they shape our subjective image of phenomena and events. At the level of a multi-person organization there are frequently different and conflicting aims operating simultaneously. 

In both cases, the images and the aims of the system, even if agreed upon, may change over time."

Alexander Laszlo, President of the Board of Directors

Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science 



When a Butterfly Sneezes: A Guide for Helping Kids Explore Interconnections in Our World Through Favorite Stories (Systems Thinking for Kids, Big and Small, Vol 1)

By Linda Booth Sweeney

A must-have resource for any parent or educator who wants to help children think about interconnections in our world. Each chapter focuses on a favorite children's picture book--and reveals the systems principle inherent in the story, general points for discussion, illustrations of key concepts, and questions to spark conversation for both younger and older readers.

Thinking About Systems

  • Living systems are everywhere. 
  • These systems elements and processes interacting to form a whole, shape us and surround us. 
  • When we look closely, we see living systems on all scales, from the smallest plankton, to our own body, to the planet as a whole. 
  • When we understand what constitutes a living system, we also see that our watersheds, families, communities, organizations, and nations are all living systems.
  • To think about systems means we pay attention to interrelationships, patterns, and dynamics as well as to the parts. 
  • The field of systems thinking has evolved over the past 50 years as a set of methods and tools that focus on systems rather than fragments as the context for defining and solving complex problems, and for fostering more effective learning and design.
  • At its best, the practice of systems thinking helps us to stop operating from crisis to crisis, and to think in a less fragmented, more integrated way.


What are the Habits of a Systems Thinker?

  •  The Habits of a Systems Thinker describe ways of thinking about how systems work and how actions taken can impact results seen over time. 
  • They encompass a spectrum of thinking strategies that foster problem-solving and encourage questioning. 
  • Though “habit” is defined as a usual way of doing things, the Habits of a Systems Thinker do not suggest that systems thinkers are limited by routine ways of thinking. 
  • Rather, the Habits encourage flexible thinking and appreciation of new, emerging insights and multiple perspectives. 
  • Visit the Waters Center for Systems Thinking website to learn more.
  • You can download the Thinking Habits here

The Thinking Habits of Systems Thinkers

  1.  Seeks to understand the big picture.
  2. Observes how elements within systems change over time, generating patterns and trends.
  3. Recognizes that a system’s structure generates its behavior.
  4. Identifies the circular nature of complex cause and effect relationships.
  5. Makes meaningful connections within and between systems.
  6. Changes perspectives to increase understanding.
  7. Surfaces and tests assumptions.
  8. Considers an issue fully and resists the urge to come to a quick conclusion.
  9. Considers how mental models affect current reality and the future.
  10. Uses understanding of system structure to identify possible leverage actions. 
  11. Considers short-term, long-term and unintended consequences of actions.
  12. Pays attention to accumulations and their rates of change.
  13. Recognizes the impact of time delays when exploring cause and effect relationships.
  14. Checks results and changes actions if needed: “successive approximation”.