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Thinking in Systems: A Primer (2008)

by Donella H. Meadows, Diana Wright (Editor)

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1,0952214,907 (4.24)3
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.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Great book in general, highly recommended if you just have the curiosity to analyse and think about phenomena around you, because everything can be seen as a system so this book is a helpful guide on how to see and try to understand *everything*. ( )
  mdibaiee | Sep 23, 2021 |
shelved in HT Green Library - by Reception - Monograph Library (R)
  HT.LibraryBooks | Jul 21, 2021 |
Recommended to me by a coworker. Tries to teach you how to view problems not in isolation but as systems - interactions of many variables at once. Tries to help you identify the likely leverage points - places where you can most efficiently effect changes in the system, hopefully in the direction you want (not guaranteed). ( )
  Tytania | Jul 1, 2021 |
Not having spent much time on systems I consider this a good introduction. It avoids all the math and approaches systems rather from the viewpoint of how they should be interpreted, which was delightful.

I think the most important thing I learned from this book was how hierarchies emerge naturally. I had not considered the possibility that it was more natural for evolution to create simple things that connect as modules rather than complex things that serve the same purpose as a collection of modules. This point of view has certainly changed my world view to the better. ( )
  hafsteinn | Feb 2, 2021 |
I found the first half of this book to be very difficult to get through, not because it was impenetrable, but because it just didn't excite me. Once I ground through and made it to the second half, I found it more interesting.

This may reflect part of how the book was written, but it also says something more abstract: the systems thinking Meadows discusses here originated in engineering, but its practitioners soon discovered that they had transcended technocracy. "(W)e found whole disciplines, libraries, histories, asking the same questions, and to some extent offering answers," Meadows notes. "...(T)he tool of systems thinking, born out of engineering and mathematics, implemented in computers, drawn from a mechanistic mind-set and a quest for prediction and control, leads its practitioners... to confront the most deeply human mysteries." The book mirrored that structure, beginning very technically and gradually becoming more philosophical — in other words, moving into my intellectual wheelhouse.

This isn't a paradigm-shifting book (despite its helpful exhortations to shift and transcend paradigms) but it does offer some useful insights into how to think about complex systems and errors to avoid. (Many come down to not addressing only the symptoms of a problem, or only one aspect of a complicated problem, and expecting to achieve anything more.) Helpful for people who have a high opinion of humans' ability as active agents to control our world, or for people who have a low view of human agency and sees us as largely passive bystanders. Meadows lies in the middle, and urges us to be realistic about what we can't change easily but to recognize how we can affect change. ( )
  dhmontgomery | Dec 13, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
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Meadows, Donella H.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wright, DianaEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves.... There's so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.
---Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
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For Dana
(1941-2001)
and for all those who would learn from her
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Early on in teaching about systems, I often bring out a Slinky.
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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.

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