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The Four Simple Rules of Systems Thinking 

DSRP is an acronym that stands for the four simple rules that underlie all forms of systems thinking: Make Distinctions and recognize Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives. By mixing and matching these four simple rules, people can easily learn how to think in more accurate, creative, and systemic ways, thereby increasing performance in every area of life. Our research in systems thinking and metacognition has been shown to result in increases in for critical areas: content mastery or deep understanding (higher skills & scores, etc), Lifelong learning skills (growth mindset, higher transfer, etc), IQ-type skills (synthesis, analytics, and problem solving), and EQ-type skills (emotional intelligence, prosocial behavior, grit, compassion).

DISTINCTIONS (Identity-Other) 

Systems thinkers make distinctions between and among things and ideas. How we draw or define the boundaries of an idea or a system of ideas is an essential aspect of understanding. Whenever we draw a boundary to define a thing, that same boundary defines what is not the thing (the “other”). Systems thinkers consciously use distinctions to challenge existing norms, labels, and definitions, and to identify biases in the way information is structured. 

SYSTEMS (Part-Whole)

Systems thinkers organize things and ideas into part-whole systems to make meaning. they know that changing the way ideas are organized changes meaning itself. The act of thinking is defined by splitting things up or lumping them together. Systems thinkers constantly consider context by asking “what is this a part of?” in order to see how things fit into larger wholes than is the norm.

RELATIONSHIPS (Action-Reaction)

Systems thinkers identify relationships between and among things and ideas. We cannot understand much about anything, including a system, without understanding how parts and wholes are related. Relationships come in all types: causal, correlation, direct/indirect, etc. Systems thinkers use relationships to show dynamical interactions between things and ideas, including feedback loops to show reciprocal relations.


Systems thinkers look at ideas from different perspectives and understand that every time we make a distinction (including identifying relationships and systems), we are always doing so from a particular perspective. Systems thinkers use perspectives to rethink distinctions, relationships, and/or systems. They move beyond human or animal perspectives (i.e., “perspectives with eyes”) by taking conceptual perspectives (i.e., seeing a phenomenon from the perspective of an idea or thing).

READ Systems Thinking Made Simple


Metamap software

Plectica software enables you to visualize your concepts 

Making complex concepts understandable has been a challenge to communicators for millennia. Plectica software is a groundbreaking platform that allows users to present ideas by showing the basic structure of the thinking that has generated the ideas. By showing an idea's Distinctions, Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives in diagrammatic form, the idea becomes accessible. 

In the animation to the right, we see a peanut butter and jelly

sandwich (without the top piece of bread shown for demonstration

purposes). First, we see that a gray outlined box is presented as a

visual representation of the sandwich. We've labeled it accordingly.

Then we see that the sandwich is made up of parts; bread, peanut

butter, and jelly. Our next demonstration is a perspectival one; the 

perspective of the eater of the sandwich, and of the wheat farmer

who was responsible for the sandwiches foundation. Finally, we

see the perspective of the maker of the sandwich, who defines the 

relationship between the various components; (in this case, the

delivery method of jelly to bread, and peanut butter to bread).

A simple but very explicit deconstruction of an everyday occurrence.

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