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Thinking in Systems: A Primer

A book by Donella H. Meadows

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  • Mar 17, 2009
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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 book has been accurately likened to Silent Spring for it's breadth and clear explanation of profound truths about the world. Meadows explains systems in easy to understand steps that shed the math and jargon of "insider" texts but without dumbing down the material. The reader exits the book with a much deeper understanding of how systems operate, from the simplest to the most complex. She teaches you how to look at malfunctioning systems, whether in your home, your business, your town or your planet, and find the pressure points where its possible to make a difference. She explains how and why we smart human beings so often recognize exactly the place where we should push a lever, and almost always push it the wrong way. The book is deep without being impenetrable, and full of wonderful "AHA!" moments. This one's a keeper and a sharer.

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More Thinking in Systems: A Primer reviews
review by . February 18, 2010
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 …
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. …
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Cecil Bothwell ()
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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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ISBN-10: 1603580557
ISBN-13: 978-1603580557
Author: Donella H. Meadows
Genre: Business & Investing, Science
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
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