2 + 2 > 4

by | Sep 10, 2012 | Community, Reflection

Think of the most productive, inclusive and nurturing group you have been a part of.


  • Do you feel that your individual contribution to the group was more than you would have been able to do alone?
  • Do you feel that you were positively influenced by a group member’s unique perspective?
  • Do you feel that the relationships of the group members were an important part of the group’s success?
  • Do you feel that all aspects and actions of the group were critical to the final outcome?

System Thinkers would answer yes.


A contrast to scientific reductionism, systems thinking is the process of examining how parts of system influence each other within the whole system. System Thinkers believe that the relationship of the parts are more important than the actual parts and that these dynamic relationships manifest unpredictable emergent capabilities. Therefore, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This whole system approach to problems and solutions is used in fields such as ecology, business and sociology. Here is an example:


Sports Scenario: The star player on the team, let’s say the quarterback, is hurt. The seasons is over, fans and analysts agree, because the replacement player has significantly less talent and experience than the star player. However, the team wins the next game, and the next game, and eventually goes on to win the championship! How did this happen? Even though the replacement quarterback was inferior ‘on paper’, no one could predict how he would relate with the other players and how the other players would now relate to each other. A plausible reason is that the parts (players) were more nurtured, included and productive as a result of the star not getting all the attention and consequently the whole system (team) was stronger.


System Thinking embraces two very important truths – interdependence and holism. Although taught by several spiritual traditions since BCE, these two concepts are just starting to penetrate mainstream science. The idea that everything and everyone is mutually dependent and that the whole can not be viewed as just a collection of its parts. Applying this view to today’s ecological, economic, and societal problems might be the most critical task of the 21st century.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” ~ John Muir

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