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Thinking in Systems: A Primer

A book by Donella H. Meadows

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A wonderful book, both practical and thought-provoking

  • Feb 18, 2010
  • by
Rating:
+5
If you're trying to grapple with problems or to make predictions in things like a business, a charitable organization, or a classroom, this book can help you see what you're working with as a system. Doing so -- and the numerous simple real-world examples make it possible -- can help you approach problem-solving in a new and probably more successful way.

If you enjoy thinking about philosophical issues or the great problems of the world, systems thinking is an intriguing way to do it, and you'll enjoy the discussions of how a systems approach gives us a different perspective on things like the drug wars, global warming, and pluralistic morality.

Either way, whether you read this book for practical assistance in identifying the systems you're working with and solving the problems in those systems, or just for the mental exercise, you'll find this book well-written and enjoyable to read.

The book begins with an overview of system thinking, discusses how systems work and why they surprise us, and then goes on to examine ways to intervene in systems and make changes. There's a useful appendix with a summary of the essential principles and examples of the math (there's not a whole lot of that in the main part of the book). There's also a very nice list of resources. This would be a fine book for a classroom.

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More Thinking in Systems: A Primer reviews
review by . June 12, 2009
We tend to think in terms of linear cause and effect chains ("if I do this, this will happen"), or expecting to know in advance what output will correspond to what input, and we put emphasis on immediate results ("I will do this if the direct results are beneficial") over long term consequences. This straightforward guide to systems thinking shows the problems with considering the world to be easily manipulable. The fact that rewarding a team for good performance, for example, increases their short …
review by . April 16, 2009
I first learned and practiced systems analysis back in the 1970s, and it's a skill that seems neglected in the training of many young professionals I come in contact with.    "Thinking in Systems: A Primer" is a book I hoped would be informative and accessible for people who need to develop the skill or just refresh their own talents. It does present its subject systematically and without confusing jargon.    While I found the writing clear and well-organized …
review by . March 26, 2009
Nearly everything that humans deal with is a system, which by definition is a structure with many parts that are interconnected in many different ways. One, but by no means the only mistake that can be made is to fail to recognize that something is a part of a system. If that mistake is made, then what happens can be unexpected and completely out of proportion. A change in some parts of a system is damped out so that even a major change in the part will have little overall affect on the system. …
review by . March 17, 2009
As a long-time admirer of Donella Meadows' work, and knowing that she died much too young in 2001, I was surprised and enormously gladdened to learn that another book had arrived. Meadows all but completed the volume which has been edited and released by the Sustainability Institute.    It is her masterwork. (You did us right, Dana! As Cat Stevens framed it, "Oh very young, what did you leave us this time? You're only dancing on this earth for a short while ...")     The …
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Rebecca Haden ()
Ranked #387
I'm a full time web content writer, working for companies and organizations from a goat farm in Oklahoma to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. My specialty is writing for both search engines and … more
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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."
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Details

ISBN-10: 1603580557
ISBN-13: 978-1603580557
Author: Donella H. Meadows
Genre: Business & Investing, Science
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
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