What Does ‘Systemic’ Actually Mean?


The word Systemic is tossed around quite loosely these days.  Especially when discussing social issues and politics.

But what does it really mean when we say something is systemic by nature?  By one definition it is, “Of or relating to a system or a system and other relating to or affecting the entire body or an entire organism.”  Indeed a broad judgement.

So when we say an entire nation is a systemically ‘blank blank,’ does that include the prognosticator that is making that statement?  Are those caught in the cross hairs of a so called systemic belief equally feel the same way about all other groups?  Not bloody likely as my Brit buddies say.

How Do We Define a System?

One definition of the word includes the world or universe.  Typically, we think of something smaller and ‘bounded.’  What do we mean by bounded?  Readers might be surprised that this term is a mathematical term describing a function, sequence or variation of a function.  In layman’s terms, systems have limits whether the human body, an organization, or society.

Systems also have ecosystems and are not all organic in and of them selves and they interact with other systems.  For example, a commercial firm has suppliers and customers as well as local governments and even media outlets.

Therefore, complexity is an inherent components and human constituents to ALL systems.  This stands by reason in our very robust and diverse world today.

As such human behavior can take many different decision paths regarding any given issue.  We discuss these causal affects in our 2017 piece, Excellent Behaviors: Assessing Relationships in the Operational Excellence Ecosystem.

It Is Not That Easy

Defining the systemic nature of any system is very difficult.  NO system can be defined by one word.  Systems are complex sets of moving interdependent parts whose boundary is often ill defined.

Decision makers must assure they are using valid and reliability data as they define the problem they are trying to solve.  Without such preparation, the answer put forth may be incorrect or meaningless.

Next time a colleague or pundit is tossing around the word ‘systemic’ as them what they mean and when they say it means ALL, ask them how do they know that?

In and of itself the term is meaningless.  Without a detailed definition of the system being discussed, good decisions are not possible and most likely will be poorly implemented with predictable results.

So if you believe a system is a mess, how do you go about fixing?  Methodical or emotional?  One will work better that the other approach.

What do you mean when you say something is systemic?

If you need help with your complex system, see below and contact us.

For More Information

Please note, RRI does not endorse or advocate the links to any third-party materials herein.  They are provided for education and entertainment only.

See our Economic Value Proposition Matrix® (EVPM) for additional information and a free version to build your own EVPM.

The author’s credentials in this field are available on his LinkedIn page.  Moreover, Dr. Shemwell is a coauthor of the just published book, “Smart Manufacturing: Integrating Transformational Technologies for Competitiveness and Sustainability.”  His focus is on Operational Technologies.

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” (Martin Luther King speech at Cornell College, 1962).  For more information on Cross Cultural Engagement, check out our Cross Cultural Serious Game.  You can contact this author as well.

For more details regarding climate change models, check out Bjorn Lomborg ands his latest book, False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet.

Regarding the economics of Climate Change, check out our blog, Crippling Green.

For those start-up firms addressing energy (including renewables) challenges, the author can put you in touch with Global Energy Mentors which provide no-cost mentoring services from energy experts.  If interested, check it out and give me a shout.

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