Systems Concepts – Part 1: What is a System?

This vlog post is the first in a series about the concept of systems. We begin with a discussion of the definition of a system and introduce the idea of systems thinking. We then look at how that applies to improving clinical quality and economic efficiency in systems of care, particularly for high-risk time-sensitive conditions like cardiac arrest. This post features an excerpt from an amazing lecture given by the late Dr. Russell Ackoff – a major contributor to the field of systems thinking. (Duration – 9:05)

Notes and Resource:


In conversations about improving care for serious time-sensitive conditions like cardiac arrest, stroke, STEMI, major trauma, or sepsis, you may have heard ‘systems of care’ being discussed. In the next couple of posts, we’re going to explore the systems of care concept and why it’s so important. But, before we get into the details about systems of care, let’s get a clear understanding of what we are talking about when referring to ‘systems’ in general. I have never found a more elegant presentation on the definition and concept of a system than the lecture given by Russell Ackoff back in 1994. He has a sharp sense of humor too! I’m going to show you an excerpt from that lecture and then I’ll re-join you on the other side.

(Dr. Ackoff’s lecture video excerpt was played here – no transcript available)

Wow! So much food for thought in that presentation. As Dr. Ackoff explained so well about system performance, “A system is not the sum of the behavior of its parts, it’s a product of their interactions.” Think about how that example translates to building a high performing system of care for conditions like major trauma, out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, STEMI, stroke, or sepsis. That’s something I want to explore with you in more depth – and we’ll do just that in the next post.