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Thinking in Systems: A Primer [Paperback]

Donella Meadows , Diana Wright
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Dec 2008
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 that thought leaders across the globe consider critical for 21st-century life. While readers will learn the conceptual tools and methods of systems thinking, the heart of the book is grander than methodology. Donella Meadows was known as much for nurturing positive outcomes as she was for delving into the science behind global dilemmas. She reminds readers to pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable, to stay humble and to continue to learn. In a world growing ever more complicated, crowded, and interdependent, Thinking in Systems helps readers avoid confusion and helplessness, the first step toward finding proactive and effective solutions. A vital read for students, professionals and all those concerned with economics, business, sustainability and the environment
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Paperback: 218 pages
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing Company (3 Dec 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1603580557
  • ISBN-13: 978-1603580557
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 464,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


'The publication of Thinking in Systems is a landmark ... 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 '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 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 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 shap[ing] a better future.' Publishers Weekly '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 and co-author of Natural Capitalism '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 'The publication of Thinking in Systems is a landmark ... 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 'An extremely interesting read, and in particular relevant for people dealing with changes in complex structures, such as organisations, architectures, or business processes ... Absolutely recommended.' Enterprise Agility '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 '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 '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 ... 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 'offers an excellent is a mark of the primer's success that it will not take much effort for readers to apply systems theory to the latter for themsleves.' Alistair Brown, Green World. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Donella Meadows was a pioneering environmental scientist, author, teacher, and farmer widely considered ahead of her time. She was one of the world's foremost systems analysts and lead author of the influential Limits to Growth. She was Adjunct Professor of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College, the founder of the Sustainability Institute and cofounder of the International Network of Resource Information Centers. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Primer on Systems Thinking 8 Jun 2009
I have a more thorugh review on my website. But let me just say, that I really enjoyed this book a lot.

The central insight of the book (and systems thinking in general) is, that manipulation of a system can suppress or release some behaviour which is latent within the structure of a system. A system can cause its own behaviour.

It is easy to see, why such insights carry an important message to anyone wishing to manipulate a complex systems into a desired state, such as architects, organisational designers, or business process designers. The book urges us to consider systems thinking complementary to reductionistic analysis, not throwing either of the paradigms out with the bathing water.

I usually don't comment on the appendix on the book, but in this case I will make an exception; the appendix is excellent and containts both a very useful glossary, as well as the main points of the book in bulletpoints.

This book is an extremely interesting read, and in particular relevant for people dealing with changes in complex structures, such as organisations, architectures, or business processes. For some readers, this primer will be a complete eye opener, changing the way the world is seen, For other, the will start to give them a vocabulary and a framework for understanding what they already knew by intuition.

The book provides a lens for understanding systems - and an excellent at that!
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, well-written, clear-Start here! 15 Sep 2010
By Richard Griffiths VINE VOICE
This is where newcomers to systems thinking should start, no two ways about it. Donella and Diana layout a firm foundation for the field of systems thinking study; they cover the basics with fluidity and grace using an easy, straightforward style that I could grasp instantly.

The authors start by covering definitions of a system followed by feedback-reinforcing and balancing loops, moving into the systems zoo, systems traps (E.g tragedy of the commons, seeking the wrong target, success to the successful among others), leverage points and finishing with a mildly idealistic chapter on living with systems. An excellent Appendix summarising each chapter rounds out the book.

The authors tour systems thus:
* The Basics- A Brief Visit to the Systems Zoo
* Why Systems Work So Well
* System Traps and opportunities
* Leverage Points-Places to Intervene in a System
* Living in a World of Systems
* Appendix: Systems Definitions: A Glossary, Summary of Systems Principles, Spring the System Traps, Places to Intervene in a System, Guidelines for Living in a World of Systems, Model Equations, Notes, Bibliography.

I particularly liked the leverage points chapter, a chapter offered with some caution by the authors. It was such an eye opener and practical that I was able to apply the concepts to a client the following day with success, in this case the notion of changing the structure and the rules.

If you need to organise a business, design policy or simply have an interest in the way the world works and you have only just started out with systems-get this book.
If you have more advanced books that confuse a little right now, like I do, get this book.
Read more ›
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Old ideas in new wrapping 14 July 2010
There is not much new here, I would say, just the typical Forrester way of doing social research by computer simulations, made famous through "The Limits to Growth" and the books by Peter Senge. The reason I give it five stars, however, is because it is written in a simple way, discussing the theory of differential equations without even mentioning differential equations. For a more balanced view on this approach, I think Berlinski's book from 1976 is useful, but even though the ideas in this book are old and controversial, they are important. Recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DIfficult subject -whimsical read 22 Sep 2011
Systems thinking doesn't seem to lend itself to bedside reading. But there is real humanity and humour in this book. Too many books delight in building a facade of complexity and force you to keep the brow knotted in concentration or you have to backtrack.

But every time you find it getting too complex there is a nice gentle shove back on track.
Time and time again one finds the best teachers are able to explain the most complex problems simply. This is one of those places where one finds a pleasant conversation and not a text book
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice 7 May 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book came recommended in Josh Kaufmann's The Personal MBA in a section on systems. Wanting to know a bit more on the subject I purchased this book on my kindle and was presently surprised by how well it was written. I felt that I came away with a better understanding of systems- and in sufficient detail for my needs. This is very much a primer and not for those wanting a detailed look at the field.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Systems wisdoms 5 Aug 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The main purpose of this book is to give you a basic ability to understand and to deal with complex systems. This purpose has certainly been achieved, even more so, it gives much food for thought. As an engineer, manager and consultant I have used systems thinking and models all my working life, so there is nothing really new in this book, but I have never seen such a splendid and to the point explanation. The most important section is however part three, the leverage points and guidelines for living in a world of systems, summarizing the "system wisdoms". They are the behavioral consequences of a worldview based on the ideas of feedback, nonlinearity and systems responsible for their own behavior. Al fifteen given aspects are important and enlightening and should be kept in mind by all our major decisions on complex issues. It is very difficult to rank them, but the one to be mentioned here is : Stay humble - stay a learner. Very much recommended for all interested in the human mind and heart and soul.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A vital book for anyone involved in the creation of modern systems.
I had always considered myself to be a system thinker and had read many books on artificial life, chaos theory etc. Read more
Published 1 month ago by S. Dean
5.0 out of 5 stars great primer, very compelling towards the end
If you're not sure you want to learn systems thinking this is a great easy book for the layperson to read and find out
Published 5 months ago by Buyer Buddy
4.0 out of 5 stars a good introduction
A very readable book and a good introduction to the subject, which is what I needed as I am brand new to it.
Published 5 months ago by dancingwithwolves
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Nice book
I recommend it for those are interested about system thinking. Easy going book and an easy language for non English natives
Published 7 months ago by Ali Radhi Al-Eid
5.0 out of 5 stars Really Useful
I found this really useful to help analyse how an organisation was functioning, and how it might work better. Read more
Published 8 months ago by deanom
4.0 out of 5 stars Text Book
This is a book to know about systems around us. Worthy and helpful. Enough realistic examples to understand system dynamics. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Ashraf
5.0 out of 5 stars I gave me a new start...
I had heard about System Thinking and wandered how it could be practiced... well this book won't give any answer right away, but it is an excellent start to study the topic! Read more
Published 13 months ago by Bigmach
4.0 out of 5 stars A very clear exposition
A very good primer for someone who wants to grasp the fundamentals of systems thinking through self-study. It is clear written.
Published 14 months ago by Sensei
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Introduction To Systems
I enjoyed Diana Wright's approach to thinking about systems or better, thinking in terms of systems. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Sam Shingleton
5.0 out of 5 stars A Smooth High Quality Primer
As the title suggests, this book is written as a 'primer' into the subject, and it fulfils this function with ease and grace. Read more
Published on 30 Jun 2012 by Rob Julian
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