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on 7 June 2014
I had always considered myself to be a system thinker and had read many books on artificial life, chaos theory etc.

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.
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on 17 August 2017
A primer to systems thinking indeed! I gave this book 5 stars not just because the contents are incredibly useful, but also because it reads as smoothly as any well written novel. If you are interested in how the world works then you are in the right place. But beware, unlike many others, this book offers no easy solutions. Yet in its description of complexity, its admission of "it's effing difficult", its many examples of how easy it is to get it wrong when trying to solve big, complex problems one does not find a sense of despair and futility of effort, no, one finds a sense of empowerment in understanding how "everything relates to everything" which is why it is so so difficult to design workable solutions without the systems view of the problem. Mrs Meadows also does another thing: she manages our expectations. Even with the right tools and a hope that we indeed can successfully intervene in big, complex problems she makes it clear that it won't be easy, it won't take only a few weeks, we might not get it right the first three times and we might even make it worse before we improve anything. It's okay though, because that is how it works. Moving forward is a slow and difficult process, but thanks to Mrs Meadows we might be at least slightly confident that our effort is in the right direction. Go read it.
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VINE VOICEon 10 June 2012
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.

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.
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on 5 August 2012
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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on 30 June 2012
As the title suggests, this book is written as a 'primer' into the subject, and it fulfils this function with ease and grace. It has the confident feel and logical evolved structure of a book written by someone who had completely mastered her subject and was well used to introducing these key ideas to her university students.

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.
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on 18 October 2014
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 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.
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As someone trying to apply systems thinking to my research questions in my PhD, I wish I'd read this seminal book sooner. A very approachable text for those entering complexity theory.
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on 29 August 2014
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).
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.`
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on 30 April 2011
Not just a primer, but a useful reference. I have trouble keeping hold of it though as as soon as anyone picks it up and reads a chapter, they borrow it. I may just buy a second copy and be done with it.
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.
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on 29 August 2016
This book was very readable and thought provoking. Not only does it explain systems thinking in simple terms through great examples, it gives us some concepts to help us think about living our lives more generally. Appropriate for our VUCA world, the only bit I don't get is why systems thinking is not more prevalent. I grabbed a piece of paper and pen and started sketching the systems I inhabit with the aim of improving them....Highly recommended.
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