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Does system thinking replace applied thinking?

One of the misconceptions is that you can have a strong general intellect, including developing systems thinking - and have a huge advantage over professionals in their subject areas. Roughly speaking, you will become very smart and then have an advantage over, for example, a less intelligent pianist or even a welder. Unfortunately, this will not work. A person with systems thinking will have an advantage over professionals in how quickly they will understand the project as a whole, how quickly they will come to an agreement with the other project participants, how well they can focus on the main project tasks and not get carried away by something unimportant during work. Moreover, they will be able to quickly learn something. But they will not have an immediate advantage in solving practical tasks! No amount of systems thinking will help you immediately start playing the violin, or using a welding machine, or even making medical diagnoses if you have never done it before. Not immediately - yes, you will learn all of this faster, but just becoming smart and thinking that it gives you an advantage in some applied discipline over professionals in that discipline is a mistake. If you become a professional in this applied discipline, you will be more professional than your less intelligent colleague. But if you do not become a professional - you will be "smart in general," "always promising."

Furthermore, errors in system thinking can arise from ignoring various transdisciplinary layers of intellect. If you understand well how to build a hierarchy in relation to composition, but poorly understand the relationship of classification, systems thinking will not help you, thinking errors will be for other reasons, you will need to further delve into ontology (for example, go through the course "Modeling and Assembly" again, which is a prerequisite for our systems thinking course).

Systems thinking does not replace practical/subject reasoning,nor does it guarantee good thinking across all fundamentalmethods of the intellect stack. For example, systems thinking doesnot guarantee rationality: the fact that if you thinksystematically, then you will necessarily make gooddecisions, using modern decision theory!

To see an error in "2*2=5," you still need to know arithmetic, no amount of systems thinking will help here. If you do not know how to repair toilets, but you need to, a systems thinking course will not help you, a plumbing textbook will help you. However, systems thinking enhances, directs, and complements applied reasoning, as well as reasoning within the framework of fundamental thinking methods. For example, systems thinking will help choose the modern/best plumbing textbook from many available, understand the situation of toilet repair as a whole. Suddenly, this toilet does not need repairing at all, and the problem lies elsewhere: the toilet is the "symptom" here, not the "disease"! But fundamental systems thinking will not replace practical plumbing thinking. You will still have to receive training in systems-toilet engineering, master the applied engineering method/culture/practice of this work, that is, acquire plumbing knowledge as an academic discipline/explanations, including knowledge of using the specific tools there (for example, knowing how to use an adjustable wrench, a drain cable with a brush for clearing pipes, punching rods with various attachments for different types of blockages).

If you are going to solve problems in some applied subject area without knowledge of SoTA (state-of-the-art, the best currently known knowledge) working methods in this subject area, relying only on ingenuity and resourcefulness, then we will call it tinkerism[1]. Tinkering is folk inventiveness, without reliance on modern working methods with their modern knowledge and involvement of contemporary tools. Tinkering is something like shamanism, only in engineering.

Sometimes tinkering works and gives a "working system," but such a system cannot be released to the market as a series. A "working system" at the end of tinkering is not necessarily the best in its class in terms of characteristics, reliable, cost-effective, and ready for mass production. One cannot ignore the achievements of human culture, thinking that "creativity" is when you invent everything yourself. The point is that quality creativity should be something inherently superior to existing options. Therefore, it is necessary to know at least the existing engineering ideas in order to have the opportunity to compare your inventions with the existing ones in culture.

At the very least, you should google practical knowledge/explanations, ask them from intellectual assistants and copilots. Even better - master the applied working method from the textbook, even more reliably - complete training courses on the applied method. A professional is one who does not make rookie mistakes (knows about them!), not one who knows a lot overall[2].

Acting poorly always by trial and error, relying on "freedom for creativity" and saying "no time to research the issue, no time to learn, work is needed." "Inventing something on your knee" is the same as "trying, suddenly it works," such a method of techno-evolution in the end is very expensive unless you have millions of years in reserve, like natural evolution. Of course, the trial and error method is used in engineering, it is recognized in engineering, but it is not the main one. If the tinkering method were the main one, engineers would not need education.

The systems thinker is not the one who ignores textbooks,standards, regulations on applied methods of work. On the contrary,it is the one who can quickly select the required textbook or finda modern standard of work, understand their content, consider the specificsituation with the involvement of all other applied methods of work ina complex team project. Systems thinking aids applied thinking, butdoes not replace it.


  1. Here are some examples of tinkerism: https://vk.com/club45696675 ↩︎

  2. This definition is attributed to Niels Bohr. ↩︎