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Thinking in Systems: a Primer: International Bestseller Paperback – Illustrated, 14 September 2015
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The classic book on systems thinking, with more than half a million copies sold worldwide!
This is a fabulous book. This book opened my mind and reshaped the way I think about investing. Forbes
Perfect for fans of Kate Raworth, Rutger Bregman and Daniel Kahneman!
The co-author of the international best-selling book Limits to Growth, Donella Meadows is widely regarded as a pioneer in the environmental movement and one of the world's foremost systems analysts . Her posthumously published Thinking in Systems, is a concise and crucial book offering insight for problem solving on scales ranging from the personal to the global. This essential primer brings systems thinking out of the realm of computers and equations and into the tangible world, showing readers how to develop the systems-thinking skills critical for 21st-century life.
Some of the biggest problems facing the world―war, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation―are essentially system failures. They cannot be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others, because even seemingly minor details have enormous impact.
While readers will learn the conceptual tools and methods of systems thinking, the heart of the book is grander than methodology. Donella Meadows reminds readers to pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable, to stay humble, and to stay a learner.
No matter what industry or career you’re in, Thinking In Systems will bring clarity to the complicated, crowded and interdependent networks that make up the world today. Thinking in Systems helps readers avoid confusion and helplessness, the first step toward finding proactive and effective solutions.
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Publishers Weekly, Starred Review-
Just before her death, scientist, farmer and leading environmentalist Meadows (1941-2001) completed an updated, 30th anniversary edition of her influential 1972 environmental call to action, Limits to Growth, as well as a draft of this book, in which she explains the methodology-systems analysis-she used in her ground-breaking work, and how it can be implemented for large-scale and individual problem solving. With humorous and commonplace examples for difficult concepts such as a "reinforcing feedback loop," (the more one brother pushes, the more the other brother pushes back), negative feedback (as in thermostats), accounting for delayed response (like in maintaining store inventory), Meadows leads readers through the increasingly complex ways that feedback loops operate to create self-organizing systems, in nature ("from viruses to redwood trees") and human endeavor. Further, Meadows explicates methods for fixing systems that have gone haywire ("The world's leaders are correctly fixated on economic growth ...but they're pushing with all their might in the wrong direction"). An invaluable companion piece to Limits to Growth, this is also a useful standalone overview of systems-based problem solving, "a simple book about a complex world" graced by the wisdom of a profound thinker committed to "shaping a better future.
"When I read Thinking in Systems I am reminded of the enormity of the gap between systemic thinkers and policy makers. If this book helps narrow the gap, it will be Dana's greatest contribution."--Lester Brown, founder and President, Earth Policy Institute
"Dana Meadows' exposition in this book exhibits a degree of clarity and simplicity that can only be attained by one who profoundly and honestly understands the subject at hand--in this case systems modeling. Many thanks to Diana Wright for bringing this extra legacy from Dana to us."--Herman Daly, Professor, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland at College Park
"Reading Thinking in Systems evokes the wisdom and even the voice of Dana Meadows. We are reminded of how she was not only one of the great systems thinkers, but also one of our greatest teachers. This is modestly called a primer, and indeed it is, but unlike most books with that title, this one quickly takes one from the elementary into deep systems thinking about issues as critical today as they were when Dana wrote these words. The discussion of oil use and the interaction of its extraction pattern with economic decision making should be required reading for all energy policy makers and energy company executives (as well as all informed citizens in a democracy). The fisheries case reminds us of how little any government or private actor has done to grasp the importance of takeout flows in determining stocks when the input flows are not within our control. The commentary on economics and, yes the need to consider limits, is a clear systems statement that clarifies a great deal of discussion that goes back to The Limits to Growth.
It is remarkable that Dana is able to explain with such clarity such systems concepts of stocks, flows, feedback, time delays, resilience, bounded rationality, and system boundaries and to illustrate each one with multiple informative examples. Her statement that goals that optimize subsystems will sub optimize the functioning of the total system, is truly profound. As the book moves from the 'mechanics' of systems dynamics to Dana's more philosophical perspective, we are treated to her inherent belief in human values that consider the good of all, and how much more effective considering the needs of others is likely to be in solving larger, complex problems. The universe and our society may be very complex and operate in counterintuitive, non-liner fashion, but following the insights of this book and applying them will provide for far more effective solutions to the challenges of a 7 billion person planet than current incremental, linear responses by governments, corporations and individuals."--Bill Moomaw, Professor of International Environmental Policy at the Fletcher School, Tufts University
"In Dana Meadows's brilliantly integrative worldview, everything causes everything else; cause and effect loop back on themselves. She was the clearest thinker and writer co-creating the art and science of systems dynamics, and Thinking in Systems distills her lifetime of wisdom. This clear, fun-to-read synthesis will help diverse readers everywhere to grasp and harness how our complex world really works."--Amory B. Lovins, Chairman and Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute
"Dana Meadows taught a generation of students, friends, and colleagues the art and science of thinking beyond conventional boundaries. For her systems thinking included the expected things like recognizing patterns, connections, leverage points, feedback loops and also the human qualities of judgment, foresight, and kindness. She was a teacher with insight and heart. This long anticipated book, the distillation of her life's work, is a gem."--David Orr, Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics, Oberlin College
"The publication of Thinking in Systems is a landmark. To live sustainably on our planet, we must learn to understand human-environment interactions as complex systems marked by the impact of human actions, the prominence of nonlinear change, the importance of initial conditions, and the significance of emergent properties. Dana Meadows' final contribution is the best and most accessible introduction to this way of thinking we have. This book is destined to shape our understanding of socio-ecological systems in the years to come in much the same way that Silent Spring taught us to understand the nature of ecosystems in the 1960s and 1970s."--Oran R. Young, Professor, Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at University of California, Santa Barbara
"Thinking in Systems is required reading for anyone hoping to run a successful company, community, or country. Learning how to think in systems is now part of change-agent literacy. And this is the best book of its kind."--Hunter Lovins, founder and President of Natural Capital Solutions and coauthor of Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
"Dana Meadows was one of the smartest people I ever knew, able to figure out the sensible answer to almost any problem. This book explains how she thought, and hence is of immense value to those of us who often wonder what she'd make of some new problem. A classic."--Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy
"An inspiring sequel to Dana Meadows' lifetime of seminal contributions to systems thinking, this highly accessible book should be read by everyone concerned with the world's future and how we can make it as good as it possibly can be."--Peter H. Raven, President, Missouri Botanical Garden
"Few matched Dana Meadows remarkable blend of eloquence and clarity in making systems thinking understandable. When Dana began her career, the field was esoteric and academic. Today it is the sine quo non for intelligent action in business and society. The publication of Meadows' previously unfinished manuscript is a gift for leaders of all sorts and at all levels."--Peter M. Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline and The Necessary Revolution
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From the perennial problem of managing drug addiction, to climate change and population growth - you name it - you will get an amazing, easy to follow, perspective on the "zoo" of different system types and the systems issues that follows..
It helps you see more clerkly why praising/blaming individuals is so problematic and it also explains the "Groundhog Day" of things not getting fixed, even getting worse.. Its necessary for anyone who is really serious in effecting change in the issues of today
There is a strong emphasis within the book on economic and environmental issues, which suited me well. I presume that the late author held quite progressive environmental views anyway, but systems thinking engenders and illuminates environmental concerns better than any other approach I can think of. The sections on resource depletion are both fascinating and frighteningly realistic. Although the issues and underlying thinking was not necessarily always original to systems thinking, the language (labelling of terms) and often counter-intuitive approach of systems modelling has got a lot to give in these two subjects.
Concepts introduced such as information hierarchies and resilience, are both common sense and useful intellectual tools at the same time.
"I think of resilience as a plateau upon which the system can play, performing its normal functions in safety. A resilient system has a big plateau, a lot of space over which it can wonder, with gentle, elastic walls that will bounce it back, if it comes near a dangerous edge. As a system loses its resilience, its plateau shrinks, and its protective walls become lower and more rigid, until the system is operating on a knife edge, likely to fall off in one direction or another whenever it makes a move. Loss of resilience can come as a surprise, because the system usually is paying much more attention to its play than to its playing space. One day it does something it has done a hundred times before and crashes."p78
Looking back through it, the structure of this book is also very good as I have mentioned. It progresses in a logical way from the practicalities of systems thinking through to their implications and ends with some quite philosophical themes and advice. As another reviewer has mentioned, the appendix is actually useful in this book for a change, and seems in parts like a list of the key points of the book in a type of student revision notes form.
The writing and citations in this book almost seem to suggest an air of bemused condescension on behalf of systems thinkers for their misdirected non systems thinking fellow man and the subsequent mistakes they make. Similar to the airy condescension of free market economists, but more justified and less disproved by recent events. There are many examples given which justify this air of superiority, and it seems to me to be an easy stance to buy into! Systems thinking does seem to contain the right tools for tackling the biggest contemporary problems.
Anyone suggest a suitable follow up book on systems thinking? ( preferably one biased towards economics)
Very accessible and recommended to all as an enjoyable introduction to this subject.
Well written, easily understood without being in any way patronising or trying to be too clever. It assumes little knowledge to begin with and builds from simple foundations. Having read it a few times, I now find myself paraphrasing from it and using examples from it when I'm instructing or coaching.
Highly recommended for trainers and students alike.