Many of us think in Newtonian terms. We think that systems can be broken into individual components, and once these components are understood, so too can the overall behaviour of the system. A system is the sum of its parts.
While this may be true for simple systems, complex systems (such as the economy or the mining industry) are much more than the sum of their parts. In these systems complex behaviour arises not because of individual components, but because of interactions between these components.
These systems exhibit non-linear behaviour (small causes can produce large effects), they are open systems (they interact and respond to their environment), they are adaptive (what is true today may no longer be true tomorrow), and they produce emergent behaviour (behaviour that was not designed into them).
A systems thinking approach overcomes the shortfalls of Newtonian thinking by using a holistic approach to not only understand a system’s components, but to also understand its interactions and boundaries.