It was a real pleasure to see the responses on systems thinking by Steve
Runge, Steve Wallace, Patrick Schutz and Frank Christ. If I missed referring
to anyone here it is because I've been immobilized for the past week or so
with a changeover in email systems (to Microsoft Exchange Server and
Microsoft Outlook for those who are interested) and some mail may have been
lost. My experience with this frustrating process causes me to offer a
blanket personal forgiveness to all those who accidentally reply with
personal messages to the group and to those who send listserv commands to
the group instead of the computer. No longer will I grumble to myself and
smirk knowingly. I have been humbled.

Now, on with a response to Annette. I'll avoid repeating the aspects of
systems that have already been presented, except where needed to make the
point. To me the term 'systems thinking' has advantages because it is
holistic, long-range, and team oriented. It focuses on manipulating causes
instead of effects. But, its greatest advantage is that its final outcome is
humane. Speaking of humanity, probably one of the earliest and most profound
insights into systems thinking was proposed by a great philosopher who is
still honored when the world celebrates his birthday and his resurrection
each year. The quote goes something like this, "What you do to the least of
these, you do unto me." ...Systems thinking at its best there! This
statement embodies the concept that a system isn't defined by its strongest
component, but by its weakest. Also, a system is interconnected and to try
to act as if a change in one component had no effect on the other components
of the system is to deny reality. (possible applications to the discussion
of community college faculty teaching developmental ed in universities?) For
more on systems characteristics see

Part of the reason that systems thinking with all of its advantages has not
been the dominant modus operandi, is the same reason that people will learn
to play checkers before they learn to play chess. It's a lot harder to do.
In fact, it is so hard that it is really not something that should be done
alone. Systems thinking requires teamwork, teamwork in its truest sense.
Free, clear, synergistic communication. Teams need some people with a
strength for details and practicality, some people with a strength in
possibilities and new approaches, some people with a strength in logical
analysis, and some people with a strength in, well... in people.

The most important way that systems thinking is being applied now, is in the
concept of the 'learning organization.' This is the concept promoted in what
is now a 'Fifth Discipline' series. The elements of a learning organization
can be found at the Maricopa site
<>. It is worth noting
that one of the most profound outcomes of the development of this approach
is that, although it was initially aimed at the corporate sector, over half
of the book sales have gone to the educational sector. There is at least one
annual conference on systems thinking hosted by Pegasus and you can see some
background info at their site <>.
Educators from elementary through college, and yes, even from industry,
present rather astounding results from their efforts at these conferences. I
can't resist showing off our own website at Texas Tech to represent our own
efforts at establishing a learning organization here
<>. This is so much fun with so much potential that
I have left bench research in biochemistry to pursue the development of
learning organizations as my academic goal.

One more aspect of systems that I think is worth mentioning and then I will
hit the exit lane. Systems form a gestalt with their environment. That is,
they are defined in part by their environment. In fact (i.e. in my opinion),
the term 'closed systems' is an oxymoron. Short run, closed system thinking
ignores the environment where it can and ignores the future where it can.
But, true systems thinking knows that the system will have to function in
the long run it creates and that its form and function will be shaped, in
part, by its interaction with the environment.

So as I exit, I will offer another of the timeless systems philosophies.

"Sow a thought, reap an act.
Sow an act, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character.
Sow a character, reap a destiny."

my best,


ps I doing a final check of the links, I found the Maricopa link to be
broken. I have sent them a message to try and make it available again, but
any of you who work there may want to try and help with this locally.

John W. Pelley, Ph.D.  mailto:[log in to unmask]
Texas Tech Univ. HSC, Lubbock, TX 79430
voice: 806-743-2543 /FAX: 806-743-2990

                -----Original Message-----
                From:   Annette Gourgey [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
                Sent:   Thursday, April 01, 1999 10:29 AM
                To:     [log in to unmask]
                Subject:        Re: Free classes in many subjects

                John (or any other interested parties),

                Would you explain a bit more to those of us new to the term
                "systems thinking" what you mean by its application to

                Annette Gourgey
                [log in to unmask]