- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing; 1 edition (15 December 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1603580557
- ISBN-13: 978-1603580557
- Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2 x 22.9 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 363 g
- Customer Reviews: 539 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 15,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.00 delivery
+ $14.98 delivery
Thinking in Systems: A Primer Paperback – 15 December 2008
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
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.
About the Author
Customers who read this book also read
Review this product
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Now I want to dive deeper.
Although heavy-going in parts, the wisdom in this book is worth persevering to the end. The definition of a 'system' includes not just the typical business or technological view of what a system is; everything is a system: the planet's ecosystem, a cell, the human body, an organ within a body, a political party, a room's temperature control, a family, inventory levels in a business... everything. And all systems are interconnected.
This book is universally useful, due to that perspective.
The insights on how to understand system structures, flows, behaviours and where to intervene (effect change) in a system are profoundly useful. The Systems Traps explained in the book are something that if we all understood them--especially our politicians and legislators--we'd have a far more equitable, peaceful and sustainable society in this global village of ours.
Top international reviews
But until now there was no book that I had read that formed a basis of how systems, in general, tied together. This book provides that glue. It covers a lot of ground and provides solid examples of how system thinking can, quite literally, change the world. It covers areas such as oil production, politics, user of language and drug addiction in ways that are cohesive and informative. It never provides 'just so stories' that are unsupported and provide examples of simple systems (from the systems zoo) that explain why often those who influence systems end up pushing the wrong way and making things worse, even though they may have the best of intentions.
I have so far recommended this book to five people all from different backgrounds and will be folding in what I have learnt here into my User Experience work.
In Part 1, System Structure and Behaviour, Meadows uses two graphical tools to analyse systems: stock and flow diagrams to show system structure; and charts mapping stock or flow levels over time to explore system behaviour for specific scenarios. The diagrams can be used to display "balancing" (aka "negative") and "reinforcing" (aka "positive") feedback loops, and the charts to explore how these might play out.
While some of the systems might seem simplistic, they build up understanding of a key Systems Thinking insight, that systems generate their own behaviour. And if you're ever wondered why the "heroes and villains" style of explanation only works in retrospect, this is a damn good explanation.
Chapter two, The Zoo, is a library of common system structures and their behaviour. Those of us from the software world will be reminded of a patterns library. Again, these patterns illustrate a deeper insight, that "systems with similar feedback structures produce similar dynamic behaviors, even if the outward appearance of these systems is completely dissimilar." (p 51)
In Part 2, Systems and Us, Meadows applies Systems Thinking to our world. Many of the examples are dated, but I found myself thinking how applicable these patterns and insights were to topics I was currently encountering - for example, I can't help thinking she would have loved the way that Kanban reflects a systems learning, that the ability of people and organisations to execute tasks degrades rapidly as the number of tasks rises beyond a critical limit.
Of course one natural and urgent interest in systems behaviour is how to change it. If worshipping heroes and lynching villains isn't going to reform systems that may exhibit non-linear, perverse or self-preserving behaviour, what is?
In Part 3, Creating Change in System and in our Philosophy, Meadows gives us a dozen leverage points for changing systems, starting with the simplest and ending with the most powerful. She finishes with a list of "systems wisdoms" - attitudes and values that she and others she respects have adopted to make them more effective at understanding and changing the systems we live in.
Like many of the other reviewers, I wish I'd read this book a long time ago. It has its limitations - I'd love to see more recent examples, and can't help wondering if there are any open-source Systems modelling resources. But for me this is a book of timeless value for anyone interested in a better understanding of their world and their options in it.
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.
So many things start to make "sense", from economy, environment, politics to relationships and psychology. And by making sense , I mean standing on the shore and seeing the beautiful complexity of everything that surrounds you.
This is a wonderful book and a great introduction to the world of systems and non-linear models.
It has just enough science to make it concrete but so much that it becomes a dry scientific treatise.
Writer boldly with heart, passion and and reverberating wisdom. Impossible to put down once started.
I wish you many an 'aha' moments!
The only downside of this book is that once you get through it, you'll crave a follow up to it...
(A good problem to have)
PS this is my first ever review on Amazon. Only now I have been compelled enough to shout from the rooftops about something this good.
It is written in an engaging manner with lots of examples and application summaries and checklists to round off the book.
Apparently most of the text was written in the early 90s. Given that, and the relevance of it nearly 25 years later, I think this qualifies as a timeless classic of interest to all those piqued by `how life works.`
It offers a way of thinking that has never been more important.
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.
The biggest learning for me is that we CAN, if we choose, transcend today's paradigm s but that will take courage and a much longer term view than the typical 4 year election cycle.