Sufi Teaching Story

You think that because you understand “one” that you must therefore understand “two” because one and one make two. But you forget that you must also understand “and.”

—Sufi teaching story

From Donella, Meadows. (2013-01-18). Thinking in Systems: A Primer (p. 12). Chelsea Green Publishing. Kindle Edition.

A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something. If you look at that definition closely for a minute, you can see that a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose.

Donella, Meadows. (2013-01-18). Thinking in Systems: A Primer (p. 11). Chelsea Green Publishing. Kindle Edition.

When you identify these elements in a system, you’ve addressed the following questions…

What? or Who? – These are the elements of the system.
How? Where? and When? – These are the interconnections between the elements.
Why? – This is the purpose or function of the system.

This puts an interesting spin on journalism.

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  1. Food and nutrition are interesting examples. My own personal journey through glucose land is an example of what you're describing. Here's yet another book; The New Glucose Revolution: The Authoritative Guide to the Glycemic Index - the Dietary Solution for Lifelong Health. How carbs will affect you can't be determined from the side of the box. It depends on what you're eating them with and how they're delivered. It's a great system example.

    Michael Polan does an excellent job of bringing the systems view to food. I read The Omnivore's Dilemm when it came out and it changed my opinion of the American food industry (not for the better). It was a good read. I'll add In Defense of Food to my list.

  2. Good stuff, sounds like an interesting book. Here's an example of breaking a system down into components: The book "In Defense of Food" discusses the American trend to analyze food in terms of its nutritional constituents. (The challenge, of course, seems to be that human nutrition, isn't a simple system.) The book itself is an interesting example of this spin, as it talks a lot about the "why" of that trend. Systems thinking on both levels.


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