At least since 570-550 BCE, twenty years that saw the birth of Pythagoras, Siddhārtha Gautama, Lao-Tsu, and Kong Qiu, there have been many great observers of humanity, who have named a reality that has had a major influence on society for hundreds to thousands of years. These philosophers were all great systems thinkers, asking the big questions of human existence and developing whole systems to understand, live by, and live within these pictures of reality.
At least 2,550 years of philosophers, right up to today, have seen whole systems that describe:
- the basic stocks of life, those essential elements human life depends on — here they have developed the economic question of how much resource there is and how to get more of it
- the inflows and outflows of these basic stocks, influencing whether there is enough or not, over time — here they have developed the political question of who decides and enforces who has access to the stocks and the surplus of these stocks
- the information flows influencing the decisions made in the inflows and outflows, determining what criteria are used to decide — here they have developed the cultural question of what values are used to decide, and what symbols are used to represent those values and who are the identity holders for a group
- the relationships amongst the information flows, inflows and outflows, and basic stocks — here they have developed the social question of how we interact, the principles, standards, and rules of the game
In designing these whole systems, with stocks, flows, information, and connections amongst them all, these philosophers, dating back at least 2,550 years have been master systems thinkers. Systems thinking is not new, but it is complex, and the few people who have had disproportionately huge influences on how the rest of us live our lives, embraced this complexity and designed whole systems that addressed all four questions at the same time. Pythagoras influenced western thought through Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Siddhārtha Gautama created Buddhism. Loa-Tsu delineated Taoism. Kong Qiu described Confucianism. A pretty impactful twenty-year period, in the beginning of at least 2,550 years of systems thinking. It is our turn to take the next step, to take on the design of the whole like they did so many years ago.