What does good look like? It might be obvious when we see it, but if we are on the wrong track, we might never see it. How can systems thinking help us discover what good looks like?

Knowing what good looks like is fundamental to any enterprise’s success. Once an enterprise understands what good looks like it can develop a strategy to attain it. How can systems thinking help an enterprise understand what good might look like?

Systems thinking works by applying the concept of a system to a problem. By assuming that any problem is a system, we can assume that the problem has all the properties of a system. By examining these properties, we can gain insight into the problem.

All systems are transformational, and an enterprise is no different. An enterprise consumes goods and services to produce goods or services of its own. This is the main purpose of any enterprise. However, producing goods and services alone is not enough. An enterprise will only fulfil its purpose when it produces its goods or services at the right time, in the correct order and in the right place.

In order for any enterprise to fulfil its purpose its own needs must be met. It must be supplied with its own products and services at the right time, in the correct order and in the right place. If not, it cannot not satisfy its own customers. Being supplied products and services is not a one-way street. Any enterprise must in turn support its suppliers. If not, at some point its supply chain will fail.

An enterprise being adequately supplied with products and services cannot guarantee that it will meet the needs of its own customers. All systems have a capacity. System capacity is determined by the rate at which a system can convert its needs into products. An enterprise’s capacity is determined by the capability of its workforce and how they are organised. Any enterprise must carefully manage its capacity to ensure that it continues to fulfil all its customers’ needs.

Is there anything else that systems thinking would cause us to consider? In a word resilience. Any system must be resilient to external influences. In short it must be able to react appropriately to external disturbances. Enterprises must be able to adapt to disruption.

So, what does good look like?

In an ideal world an enterprise would have the capacity to fulfil all its customers’ needs at any time, whilst adapting to disruption and satisfying its suppliers and workforce. However, we do not live in an ideal world. The best any enterprise can hope for, is that it achieves the delicate balance of meeting the needs of our customers and managing disruption, while satisfying its suppliers and workforce. And it must do all that without unduly damaging the environment in which it operates.

Answering the question ‘What does good look like?’ might be simple, but achieving it is incredibly difficult.