Thinking in Systems: A Primer
Donella H. Meadows
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
In the years following her role as the lead author of the international bestseller, Limits to Growth―the first book to show the consequences of unchecked growth on a finite planet― Donella Meadows remained a pioneer of environmental and social analysis until her untimely death in 2001.
Thinking in Systems, is a concise and crucial book offering insight for problem solving on scales ranging from the personal to the global. Edited by the Sustainability Institute’s Diana Wright, this essential primer brings systems thinking out of the realm of computers and equations and into the tangible world, showing readers how to develop the systems-thinking skills that thought leaders across the globe consider critical for 21st-century life.
Some of the biggest problems facing the world―war, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation―are essentially system failures. They cannot be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others, because even seemingly minor details have enormous power to undermine the best efforts of too-narrow thinking.
While readers will learn the conceptual tools and methods of systems thinking, the heart of the book is grander than methodology. Donella Meadows was known as much for nurturing positive outcomes as she was for delving into the science behind global dilemmas. She reminds readers to pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable, to stay humble, and to stay a learner.
In a world growing ever more complicated, crowded, and interdependent, Thinking in Systems helps readers avoid confusion and helplessness, the first step toward finding proactive and effective solutions.
bank at 7% interest per year, you will double your money in 10 years (70 ÷ 7 = 10). If you get only 5% interest, your money will take 14 years to double. TIS final pgs 33 5/2/09 10:37:36 34 PART ONE: SYSTEM STRUCTURE AND BEHAVIOR Bank has done something to control the economy, you’ll also see that the economy must have done something to affect the Federal Reserve Bank. When someone tells you that population growth causes poverty, you’ll ask yourself how poverty may cause population growth.
Those who can have raced to take bonuses now rather than next year [when taxes are expected to be higher], to TIS final pgs 126 5/2/09 10:37:41 CHAPTER FIVE: SYSTEM TRAPS . . . AND OPPORTUNITIES 127 cash in stock options, . . . and to move income forward in any way possible. —Sylvia Nasar, International Herald Tribune, 19929 Using accumulated wealth, privilege, special access, or inside information to create more wealth, privilege, access or information are examples of the archetype called
Forrester’s World model than faster technological development or freer market prices. Those are attempts to speed up the rate of adjustment. But the world’s physical capital stock, its factories and boilers, the concrete manifestations of its working technologies, can change only so fast, even in the face of new prices or new ideas—and prices and ideas don’t change instantly either, not through a whole global culture. There’s more leverage in slowing the system down so technologies and prices can
of the trap have been classic, and awful to behold. Examples of bad human behavior are held up, magnified by the media, affirmed by the culture, as typical. This is just what you would expect. After all, we’re only human. The far more numerous examples of human goodness are barely noticed. They are “not news.” They are exceptions. Must have been a saint. Can’t expect everyone to behave like that. And so expectations are lowered. The gap between desired behavior and actual behavior narrows. Fewer
10:37:43 Appendix System Deﬁnitions: A Glossary Archetypes: Common system structures that produce characteristic patterns of behavior. Balancing feedback loop: A stabilizing, goal-seeking, regulating feedback loop, also know as a “negative feedback loop” because it opposes, or reverses, whatever direction of change is imposed on the system. Bounded rationality: The logic that leads to decisions or actions that make sense within one part of a system but are not reasonable within a broader