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Thinking in Systems: A Primer [Kindle Edition]

Meadows. Donella , Diana Wright
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In the years following her role as the lead author of the international bestseller, Limits to Growth—the first book to show the consequences of unchecked growth on a finite planet— Donella Meadows remained a pioneer of environmental and social analysis until her untimely death in 2001.

Thinking in Systems, is a concise and crucial book offering insight for problem solving on scales ranging from the personal to the global. Edited by the Sustainability Institute’s Diana Wright, 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.

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 power to undermine the best efforts of too-narrow thinking.

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 stay a learner.

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.

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'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, t --Alistair Brown, Green World.

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.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1210 KB
  • Print Length: 243 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1603580557
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing (3 Dec. 2008)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #51,309 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 33 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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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, well-written, clear-Start here! 15 Sept. 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.
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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 Sept. 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I recommend Thinking in Systems because it has changed the way I understand and relate to my world. Published after Donella Meadow's death, it introduces Systems Thinking by way of definition, illustration and application.

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.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars What a ride!
As a systems primer, it does exactly that, it creates awareness of the complexity of systems and highlights the opportunities for choice that we have as a human race, even though... Read more
Published 5 months ago by John Hardwick
4.0 out of 5 stars This is essential reading for anyone interested in how complete ...
This is essential reading for anyone interested in how complete systems work, rather than the typical reductionist view of the world.
Published 6 months ago by MR PW LINEHAN
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is in my top ten books that everyone ...
This book is in my top ten books that everyone should read. If you don't understand systems you don't understand the world we live in. Read more
Published 8 months ago by M ROY BONNEY
5.0 out of 5 stars Well formatted and easy to digest
Ideal introduction to systems thinking. Well formatted and easy to digest.
Published 9 months ago by Swiss Tony
5.0 out of 5 stars Life changing and a true gem
I cannot believe that I have only now stumbled upon system thinking and system dynamics.
So many things start to make "sense", from economy, environment, politics to... Read more
Published 9 months ago by P. Zuralski
5.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to Systems Dynamics
Seminal introductory book on Systems Thinking and Systems Dynamics in particular. Diana Wright has actually edited writings from Dana Meadows, an excellent writer in the area of... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Luciano Batista
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking and practical
Systems Thinking is a vast subject, but as presented here you realise you already know a lot of the principles (you are, after all, a system). Read more
Published 11 months ago by Andy Collins
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 13 months 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 17 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 18 months ago by dancingwithwolves
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