Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows and Diana Wright
This book has been distilled out of the wisdom of thirty years of systems modeling and teaching carried out by dozens of creative people, most of them originally based at or inﬂ uenced by the MIT System Dynamics group. Foremost among them is Jay Forrester, the founder of the group. My particular teachers (and students who have become my teachers) have been, in addition to Jay: Ed Roberts, Jack Pugh, Dennis Meadows, Hartmut Bossel, Barry Richmond, Peter Senge, John Sterman, and Peter Allen, but I have drawn here from the language, ideas, examples, quotes, books, and lore of a large intellectual community. I express my admiration and gratitude to all its members.
I also have drawn from thinkers in a variety of disciplines, who, as far as I know, never used a computer to simulate a system, but who are natural systems thinkers. They include Gregory Bateson, Kenneth Boulding, Herman Daly, Albert Einstein, Garrett Hardin, Václav Havel, Lewis Mumford, Gunnar Myrdal, E.F. Schumacher, a number of modern corporate executives, and many anonymous sources of ancient wisdom, from Native Americans to the Suﬁ s of the Middle East. Strange bedfellows, but systems thinking transcends disciplines and cultures and, when it is done right, it overarches history as well.
Having spoken of transcendence, I need to acknowledge factionalism as well. Systems analysts use overarching concepts, but they have entirely human personalities, which means that they have formed many fractious schools of systems thought. I have used the language and symbols of system dynamics here, the school in which I was taught. And I present only the core of systems theory here, not the leading edge. I don’t deal with the most abstract theories and am interested in analysis only when I can see how it helps solve real problems. When the abstract end of systems theory does that, which I believe it will some day, another book will have to be written.
Therefore, you should be warned that this book, like all books, is biased and incomplete. There is much, much more to systems thinking than is presented here, for you to discover if you are interested. One of my purposes is to make you interested. Another of my purposes, the main one, is to give you a basic ability to understand and to deal with complex systems, even if your formal systems training begins and ends with this book. —Donella Meadows, 1993
A Note from the Author | ix A Note from the Editor | xi Introduction: The Systems Lens | 1
Part One: System Structures and Behavior ONE. The Basics | 11 TWO. A Brief Visit to the Systems Zoo | 35
Part Two: Systems and Us THREE. Why Systems Work So Well | 75 FOUR. Why Systems Surprise Us | 86 FIVE. System Traps . . . and Opportunities | 111
Part Three: Creating Change—in Systems and in Our Philosophy SIX. Leverage Points—Places to Intervene in a System | 145 SEVEN. Living in a World of Systems | 166
Appendix System Deﬁ nitions: A Glossary | 187 Summary of Systems Principles | 188 Springing the System Traps | 191 Places to Intervene in a System | 194 Guidelines for Living in a World of Systems | 194 Model Equations | 195
Notes | 204 Bibliography of Systems Resources | 208 Editor’s Acknowledgments | 211 About the Author | 213 Index | 215
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