Accelerating rates of change are not the only defining characteristics of our globalizing world. In addition, wicked problems and today’s other vexing problems are best viewed through one of a number of mental lenses that can be lumped together under the generic term, systems theory.

Unlike earlier, so-called, reductionist world views that broke things down into their separate component parts, systems analysts stress the fact that every element in a system is interconnected to every other one so that what goes around literally comes around.

Political scientists use this simplified model of a national political system. Critical here–as it is in any system–is the notion of feedback through which one individual’s or institution’s actions today influence everyone else’s later on.

Systems  theory  as reflected in this first chart became popular in the social sciences in the 19600s but soon fell out of favor because most systems that contain wicked problems cannot be diagrammed in such a simple way.

Instead, they are best understood as far more complex networks as in this second chart.

Elsewhere on the wicked problems section of, I show how you can build a “map” of any interdependent systems whether it involves conflict and security or not.  Once you map one wicked problem, you will have no trouble seeing those interconnections and their long and indirect chains which scientists refer to as second, third, and nth order effects.

If you try to draw a map of the causes and consequences of racism in the United States or terrorism around the world, you end up with a much messier picture like the one here. Everything is interconnected, but the causal links are often complicated, distant, and opaque.