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1. TOO LENGTHY . This author presents very interesting intellectual observations, but then he tries to reinforce his respectable brilliance thru short-stories that linger so long that the original point diluted by excessive rambling.
2. TOO COMPLICATED. One can summarize this book very simply: "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact"--Sherlock Holmes. Understand that "facts" have bias.
3. TOO RANDOM. I'm a person that is biased towards process and order. I like books that make thier points, summarize the evidence in support of thier observations, then move on to the next point.
This book introduces readers how to do exactly that of which the title says, Thinking in Systems, by offering insight on how to deal with the dynamics of complex systems that surrounds us every day. The dynamics can range from political and economical systems on international levels down to the simplistic daily household chores we do, all of which have a systematic approach to. Due to the unexpected passing of Donella (Dana) Meadows eight years after completing the draft of Thinking In Systems, the book was never finished. This leads me to believe the book could’ve been updated to give readers a better understanding of the information she tried to convey. Part one of the book is all about system structure and behavior and goes from the basics into the next chapter about systems zoo. According to Dana, “a system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something.” This simplistic enough start to chapter one of the book goes on to describe the different elements that complete the different systems such as your digestive system, football teams, schools and so on. Once you are able to recognize the elements to those systems you must look for the interconnections that operate through the flow of information that holds the elements together. Part two is titled Systems and Us and goes on to describe why systems work so well and why they surprise us. Resilience, self-organization, hierarchy, and suboptimization are all part of why the systems work so well while unforeseen patterns of behavior, linear and nonlinear relationships are a few reasons why systems can surprise us. Because a lot of relationships in systems are nonlinear, “their relative strengths shift in disproportionate amounts as the stocks in the system shift.” This creates instability as discussed in the spruce budworm example, which is also considered a surprise, something that is common in most systems. Systems Traps and Opportunities is a very long chapter that describes how systems are structured in ways that produce problematic behavior known as archetypes, which according to Dana Meadows can cause a lot of trouble. There are plenty of examples given in the form of a trap that has a way out attached to it. These include Policy Resistance, Tragedy of the Commons, Drift to Low Performance, Escalation, Success to the Successful, Shifting to the Burden to the Intervenor, Rule Beating, and lastly; Seeking the Wrong Goal. As confusing as they sound, I liked the way it was laid out in gray boxes in the book to easily reference back to see where each trap with the way out is located. I was really unsure about the rule beating trap because it pointed out how “departments of governments, universities, and corporations often engage in pointless spending at the end of the fiscal year just to get rid of money.” This is something I wasn’t aware of and wondered how that affects the national deficit. The way out of that trap is to create rules that achieve the purpose of the rules instead of beating them but I do not know how that would be applied to pointless spending since they will be penalized the following year with less money allocated to their budget. It’s a confusing cycle that I would have to do more research on to answer all the questions I have about it. The rest of the book discusses points on places to intervene in a system and living in a world of systems which basically summarizes the concepts and practice the most general “systems wisdoms”. My thoughts on this book were that it was quite a difficult read and I found myself going over and over and over the same sentences and paragraphs multiple times in order to get a grasp on what the author was trying to convey. I wondered the whole time how this applies to sustainable development and found it difficult to relate this to my level of sustainability. As I stated in my introduction, I believe that if Dana Meadows had been able to complete the book and not just the draft, maybe things would have been different. My reasoning behind this is I think that some of the content is very outdated and perhaps a more modern version is what is needed. Aside from that, I am not a systems thinker and probably the real reason I found it to be such a difficult read. I would not recommend this book to be read by anyone outside MIT or other technical schools/programs.
Maybe it's because I have an environmental science background, and therefore I've been thinking about natural systems for my entire education, but it's terrifying that there are people who don't already understand these fairly basic concepts. I'm glad that it has made a difference for some people, because I believe you literally *have* to understand these concepts to function in this world, but if you already know about flow and reserves (on ANY level), then this book isn't necessary.