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Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars

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 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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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 19 July 2017
This is a beautiful book, derived from a powerful intellect and a huge humanity. I found it by accident, and am deeply grateful I did.
It offers a way of thinking that has never been more important.
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on 16 June 2017
Beautifully written and probably will be read again.

Both informative and artistic in its writing style.

Very accessible and introduces key concepts behind systems thinking.

Systems theory is a topic worth going deeper into.
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on 22 April 2017
Very sad that this is a posthumous title. I'm sure she could have written many more as readable as this.
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VINE VOICEon 15 September 2010
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.
If you have ever heard the term Systems Thinking and thought it difficult, get this book.

Personally I would also hand it to any GCSE Science students-none of whom would have a problem reading straight through it and understanding it.

This one I'll be lending my own colleagues!

Thanks to the authors for a fine job.

Please see my Listmania for other titles in this list-a beginner's list that this book is at the top of!
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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 8 June 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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on 22 September 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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