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Introduction to Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity

Overcoming the systems thinking capabilities gap is of critical importance to all directors and executives in an increasingly complex world. Critical Systems Thinking should be considered a 21st century core competence. 

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About The Programme

Complexity is the major issue facing decision-makers whether working in the private, public or third sectors. Systems thinking is increasingly recognised as the only way of successfully engaging with complexity. As Sir Patrick Vallance, Head of Government Science and Engineering (in the U.K.), recently stated: “Systems thinking is a way of understanding a complex interacting problem. There is no doubt in my mind that for policy it is crucial”. Systems thinking encourages a flexible mindset, which is necessary to navigate complexity, and provides a skills-set of systems approaches oriented to achieving improvement even when we are confronted with the most ‘wicked’ of problems.

There are different types of systems approach. Each is good at identifying and managing a certain set of complex issues. However, this range of approaches

can be intimidating to newcomers and even to those with some knowledge of systems thinking. Critical systems thinking cuts through this difficulty by showing why a range of systems approaches is essential to tackle the multidimensional complexity (interrelated technical, structural, organisational, human, societal, and environmental issues) that characterises the modern world. It identifies the essential systems approaches and explains their different strengths and weaknesses. It provides the understanding necessary to use the different systems approaches in combinations appropriate to the context of application. Ultimately, critical systems thinking acts as a guide to practising responsible and effective leadership in a complex world. 


Who Will The Programme Benefit?


Leaders and senior managers working in business, government, local government, health, education, charities, project management, logistics, information systems, evaluation, etc. who want to understand what applying a systems approach can achieve in their contexts.


Practitioners and lecturers who want to deepen their understanding of the field and the range of approaches available. 



Those seeking a more grounded and self-reflective approach to their work.



Researchers and educators who want to contribute to the development of critical systems thinking. 

Designed For

Who Is Delivering The Programme?

Professor Michael C Jackson OBE


Internationally respected systems academic, author and practitioner. Former President of the International Society for the Systems Sciences and the International Federation for Systems Research. Recipient of the 2017 Beale Medal of the UK Operational Research Society and the 2022 Pioneer Award of the International Council on Systems Engineering. His latest book ‘Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity’ was published by Wiley in 2019.

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Mike's latest book ‘Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity’ was published by Wiley in 2019. A copy is included in the price of the programme.

Paul Barnett


Paul  is the Founder and CEO of the Enlightened Enterprise Academy and, with Mike, the co-Founder of the Critical Systems Institute. The Academy is also incubating other institutes related to its objectives, and Enlightened Enterprise Media is being developed as a multi-media publishing solution to support the whole enterprise. 

Paul will support Mike in the delivery of this Programme, and the publication of a related book for practitioners. 

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Programme Agenda & Structure

The 8-Week Programme of 8 Modules will be delivered via the Enlightened Enterprise Academy Hub, an online platform. 

Each module will be released weekly as a folder of content to be watched, listened to, or read. The content will include a prerecorded video interview with Mike discussing that week's topic with Paul, to be watched before that week's live session.

If you are unable to make a live session you will find the recording in the folder afterwards. And the content associated with the whole programme will be accessible for a minimum of 12 months after the programme ends.

Each week the 2x 60 minute live sessions will feature Prof. Mike Jackson in a dialogue with a practitioner of systems thinking. That dialogue, plus the audience Q&A session, will be moderated by Paul Barnett.

Before the start of the programme all delegates will be invited to join a small Reflection Group (optional). The groups will consist of approx.15 delegates to consider the content of each module at the end of each week. This programme feature is designed to help participants develop their thinking about ways to apply the insights they have gained. Such applied thinking strengthens the chances of seeing and understanding the direct relevance and value of Critical Systems Thinking in practice.     

The Enlightened Enterprise Academy Hub is also designed to support the ongoing development of learning communities long after the programme ends. This will allow you to develop strong and lasting relationships among a network of peers with similar interests. 

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about any aspect of the design and delivery of the programme.   

1 Introductory Session

  • The Development of Systems Thinking

  • The Nature of Complexity

  • ‘Wicked Problems’

  • The Need for Systems Thinking

  • History of Systems Thinking

  • The Critical Systems Thinking Mindset

2.    Critical Systems Thinking

  • Beyond Reductionism and Mechanistic Thinking

  • Holism

  • Pragmatism

  • A Multiperspectival and Multimethodological Approach

  • The Critical Systems Practice Skills-Set

3.    The Mechanical Systems Approach

  • Systems Engineering

  • Deming

  • The Vanguard Method

  • Efficacy and Efficiency

4.    The Organismic / Living Systems Approach

  • Organisations as Living Systems

  • Beer’s ‘Viable System Model’

  • Agility

  • Sustainability

  • Anti-Fragility 

5.    The Purposeful Systems Approach

  • Human Systems Are Different

  • Determining Purposes

  • Reaching Accommodations

  • Soft Systems Methodology

  • Avoiding ‘Groupthink’

  • Strategic Assumption Surfacing & testing

  • Red Team Thinking

6.    The Societal / Environmental Systems Approach

  • Issues of Power Marginalisation

  • The Environment

  • Critical Systems Heuristics

  • Giving a Voice to Disadvantaged Groups

  • ‘Representing’ the Environment and Future Generations

7.     The Interrelationships Systems Approach

  • Causal Linkages in Systems

  • System Dynamics

  • Senge’s ‘Fifth Discipline’

  • Looking for Leverage Points

  • Avoiding Unintended Consequences 

8.    The Critical Systems Practice Cycle

  • Multiperspectival and Multimethodological Working

  • EPIC 

    • Explore the Situation of Interest;

    • Produce an Intervention Strategy;

    • Intervene Flexibly;

    • Check and Evaluate


What are the Programme Objectives?
And What Happens After?


  • Create an understanding among participants of the nature of complexity, its ability to give rise to ‘wicked problems’, and the power of systems thinking as a guide to managing complexity.


  • Develop the capacity of participants to employ a multiperspectival and multimethodological systems approach (critical systems thinking and practice) to rethink their favoured worldview, navigate complexity, handle ‘wicked problems’, evaluate performance, and contribute to human well-being and sustainability.


  • Help develop the Critical Systems Institute with members learning from each other and continuing to research the ideas, disseminate them, and use them in practice. 

  • Contribute to the production of the first Practitioner’s Guide to Critical Systems Thinking.

After Completion of the Programme

  • Participants who complete the programme will:


  • Continue to have access to all the content for a minimum of 12 months. 

  • Qualify for free membership of the Institute of Enlightened Enterprise for six months

  • Be offered a 20% discount on any other programmes from the Enlightened Enterprise Institute

  • Be able to continue networking with participants from their own cohort and the alumni of previous cohorts 


What Investment Is Required?
And How To Apply


The standard rate for the programme is £800 and applies to delegates in high income countries. And to make the programme accessible globally we offer discounts of 25-75% for lower income countries. 

Payment plans are also available if you wish to spread the cost.


Additionally, a 50% discount is available to students (proof required). And partial discounts are available to anyone in any country in exceptional circumstances.  FULL DETAILS  


Details of the next dates for the programme are published in the NEWS section  


We try and ensure an interesting mix of participants in each cohort. For this reason participation is by application only.


Refunds may be requested and will be considered prior to the start of the program, but not once it has started.  

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