Northrop Grumman

Sep 27th 2017

Do you speak Tektology?


If you’re a Systems Thinker chances are you’re fluent in Tektology. But speaking and understanding it isn’t as simple as it seems.

According to Isee Systems Inc., “Systems Thinking is a vantage point from which you see a whole, a web of relationships, rather than focusing only on the detail of any particular piece. Events are seen in the larger context of a pattern that is unfolding over time.”

Tektology is essentially systems theory for physical sciences. By considering social, biological, and physical science as a system of relationships, the underpinning organization can be studied and quantified.

Thinking on that kind of macro level does not always come naturally. The ability to see and understand the interplay between the systems around us—to appreciate the connectivity and interdependencies of systems and forces—is an elusive skill, in fact it’s unattainable by many.

Like learning Arabic or Cantonese, it’s difficult to learn systems thinking and even more challenging to put it into practice. If you’re one of the lucky ones born into a Tektology world, or you have a talent for it, you’re well-suited to the demands of modern leadership because systems thinking is a driving force behind modern organizational and technological advancement.

Global companies such as Northrop Grumman are focused on fostering a Systems Thinking culture because it’s fundamental to their future. Northrop Grumman is working toward a future in which all employees – regardless of role – consider their job within the context of the entire mission and needs of the company’s customers.

A great example of Systems Thinking in an organizational context is the story of JFK and the janitor. President Kennedy, while visiting NASA in the 1960s, asked a janitor at the facility, “What do you do here?” The man replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” That’s the essence of Systems Thinking — seeing the entire mission: knowing the linkages between a clean shop floor and ‘a great leap for mankind.’

Analysis vs Synthesis

There are two main processes for reasoning—two key ways that we understand our world—analysis and synthesis.

Analysis is the basis of reasoning in historic science, organizational management and engineering. Analysis is all about reductionism, and in reductionism we seek to know, or analyze, something by examining its parts.

In analysis we divide complex entities, such as large corporations, into simple components so we can measure them and influence their behavior.

Synthesis represents the Systems Thinking approach. The main tenet of synthesis is a consideration of how something is connected to its surroundings. To understand something we don’t just take it apart. We examine it in relationship to its environment. We aim to understand something by appreciating its connections and by considering the part it plays within a wider world.

For example, instead of understanding a cat by dissecting it—as so many of us did in Biology 101—using synthesis, or Systems Thinking, we would consider the cat in its environment to understand its place and function. If our knowledge of cats was limited to what could be gleaned through dissection or analysis alone, we could not appreciate the positive impact a cat’s purring has on human blood pressure. We would miss the negative impact domestic cats have on native bird populations, and we would fail to appreciate about ninety percent of the videos on YouTube. Are you interested in using Systems Thinking in your work? Check out some careers here.

Learning Tektology

Systems Thinking allows us to ask purposeful questions and trace the implications of potential answers across an enterprise. By practicing their Tektology skills, leaders in all fields can develop solutions better suited to their customers’ needs, as well as solutions to future problems the customer cannot see coming.

So you want to improve your Tektology skills? According to the Waters Foundation, systems thinkers habitually:

  • Seek to understand the big picture;
  • Observe how elements within systems change over time,
  • Identify the circular nature of complex cause and effect relationships;
  • Make meaningful connections within and between systems;
  • Surface and test assumptions;
  • Consider short-term, long-term and unintended consequences of actions;
  • Pay attention to accumulations and their rates of change; and
  • They check results and change their actions if needed