• Nicholas McCay

Eclectic Spacewalk #2 - Systems Thinking

Read previous post #1 - The "Overview Effect"(25-30 min read)

Table of Contents:

Systems Thinking—

  • Summary of Systems Principles

  • 12 Places to Intervenes in a System (In increasing order of effectiveness)

  • 15 Guidelines for living in a world of systems

  • Text

  • Audio

  • Video

  • Websites & Groups

What’s Next?

Reading Time: 25-30 minutes. (Read sections you find intriguing, bookmark the media/links, and come back to anytime.")

Systems Thinking—

Abstract: “The holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system's constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems.”

I am a system, and a complex one at that. You are a complex system as well dear reader. I am going to pose a very straightforward & simple question: What else is a system? At the expense of sounding hyperbolic, my answer would be just about everything in this existence & reality. 

In this post, I will talk about Systems Thinking and hopefully by the end the reader will begin to see the world through a system’s principles lens moving forward. You see & interact with untold numbers of conscious & unconscious systems every single day. Your body is a system. Including your intestines, capillaries, and brain. Your cat’s too. The interstates are aptly called the “highway system.” Your country is a system, along with it’s culture. Any electronics are systems. The Dutch East India Trading company was a system. Government, Economics, Education are all systems. It is debatable if your laundry pile is a system. What do you think?

Two “thought” primers before we get into the material: Scale & Modeling.

Let’s start with scale. Where are my Men In Black fans at? If you haven’t seen the movie, there is a scene where the camera zooms out from NYC through the atmosphere, past outside of our solar system, then the Milky Way galaxy, to you seeing that our entire universe is a little marble for another creature/alien playing a game at a truly incomprehensible scale. 

Let’s begin with the biggest system we know of: The Universe. The system elements of the entire universe would obviously include the “observable” universe, but also includes the not so obvious “non-observable” universe (further than our telescopes can see). Also, to really wrap your head around systems thinking, be dumbfounded by the fact that our entire universe MAY be only a PART of an infinitely larger “Many Worlds Theory” Universe.

I bring this up to open your mind to the inevitable conclusion that there are different systems at almost every level of reality, all crisscrossing with different proportions & degrees of influence. Here is the best visualization of the scale of our universe. (Disclaimer: You might want to sit down if you aren’t already because it is quite mind boggling for our proto-conscious human brain to wrap our heads around, if at all, in any meaningful way.)

What is the smallest system we know of? Well just as the above, the answer has become more accurate over time. It used to be a cell. Then it was the atom. Then it was quarks, or subatomic particles that make up atoms. Now it is the Planck Length. But that may just be the threshold of our current knowledge and may change, or may not...

We have no idea how far it *really* goes in either direction of the spectrum, large scale universe size, or the small scale quantum level.

The second primer has to deal with Models, and almost all of which being mental models. I have to remind you that “everything we think we know about the world is a model.” This idea was brilliantly captured when Bryan Magee interviewed Noam Chomsky:

“Each one of us forms a systematically distorted view of the world because it's all built up on what accidentally happens to be the particular & really rather narrow experience of the individual who does it. Now do you think that something of that kind applies to man as a whole because of the reasons implicit in your theory? That is to say that the whole picture that mankind has formed of the cosmos of the universe of the world must be systematically distorted and what's more drastically limited by the nature of the particular apparatus for understanding that he happens to have.” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kmvVwtT4eI

Depending on your perspective this can be viewed as: less potential in pursuit of never attaining perfectionism in “our models fall far short of representing the real world fully,” or sheer awe in the ability to shape your/our environment in “our models do have a strong congruence with the world.”

Summary of System Principles

Almost all of the information discussed in this post comes from Donella M. Meadows magnum opus “Thinking In Systems: A Primer.” (We also pull from Daniel Kim’s pdf Introduction to Systems Thinking and other sources listed within the links). Both are exquisite in their deft explanation to the layman of what a system is, it’s behavior, and dare I say - a system’s view of Thinking in Systems. It has numerous illustrations and graphs to pair with the simple reading text. Words like stocks, flows, equilibrium, feedback loops are usual terms known to the casual reader, but the book goes deeper with resilience, self-organization, hierarchy, shifting dominance, delays, and oscillations with their examples. Not only does the author offer a thoughtful view of all the components of the system, but also states pithy responses to system traps with real world examples!

For the rest of the post, we will go through a summary of systems principles, places to intervene in a system (In increasing order of effectiveness), and finally we will end with guidelines for living in a world of systems.

We are specifically zeroing on systems thinking, “as in the holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system's constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems. The systems thinking approach contrasts with traditional analysis, which studies systems by breaking them down into their separate elements.” With biology, cybernetics, and ecology as its roots, systems thinking “provides a way of looking at how the world works that differs markedly from the traditional reductionistic, analytic view.”

Let’s remind the reader of some things as we continue on our system’s thinking journey.

  • A system is more than the sum of its parts.

  • Many of the interconnections in systems operate through the flow of information.

  • The least obvious part of the system, its function or purpose, is often the most crucial determinant of the system’s behavior.

  • System structure is the source of system behavior. System behavior reveals itself as a series of events over time.

The sources of system surprises (or challenges) come in many shapes, sizes, but in the end are always connected. Some are quite counter-intuitive actually.

  • Many relationships in systems are nonlinear.

  • There are no separate systems. The world is a continuum. Where to draw a boundary around a system depends on the purpose of the discussion.

  • At any given time, the input that is most important to a system is the one that is most limiting.

  • Any physical entity with multiple inputs and outputs is surrounded by layers of limits.

  • There always will be limits of growth.

  • A quantity growing exponentially toward a limit reaches that limit in a surprisingly short time.

  • Where there are long delays in feedback loops, some sort of foresight is essential.

  • The bounded rationality of each actor in a system may not lead to decisions that further the welfare of the system as a whole.

Places to Intervene in a System 

(In increasing order of effectiveness)

By now the reader should have a cursory knowledge of system principles. But how do you/we: “change the structure of the systems to produce more of what we want and less of that which is undesirable?”

MIT’s Jay Forrester likes to say that the average manager can define the current problem very cogently: “identify the system structure that leads to the problem, and guess with great accuracy where to look for leverage points - places in the system where a small change could lead to a large shift in behavior.


  • “The idea of leverage points is not unique to systems analysis - its embedded in legend: the silver bullet; the trim trab; the miracle cure; the secret passage; the magic password; the single hero who turns the tide of history; the nearly effortless way to cut through or leap over huge obstacles.”

  • “Although people deeply involved in a system often know intuitively where to find leverage points, more often than not they push the change in the WRONG DIRECTION.”

Forrester was asked by Club of Rome (to create world model) made a computer model and came out with a clear leverage point: GROWTH. “Not only population growth, but economic growth. Growth has costs as well as benefits, and we typically don’t count the costs - among which are poverty and hunger, environmental destruction, and so on - the whole list of problems we are trying to solve with growth!”

  • “What is needed is much slower, very different kinds of growth, and in some cases no growth or negative growth.”

  • “The world’s leaders are correctly fixated on economic growth as the answer to virtually all problems, but they’re pushing with all their might in the wrong direction.”

COUNTERINTUITIVE - that’s Forrester word to describe complex systems. Leverage points frequently are not intuitive.


In increasing order of effectiveness

12. Numbers: Constants and parameters such as subsidies, taxes, and standards

11. Buffers: The sizes of stabilizing stocks relative to their flows.

10. Stock-and-Flow Structures: Physical systems and their nodes of intersection

9. Delays: The lengths of time relative to the rates of system changes

8. Balancing Feedback Loops: The strength of the feedbacks relative to the impacts they are trying to correct.

7. Reinforcing Feedback Loops: The strength of the gain of driving loops

6. Information Flows: The structure of who does and does not have access to information

5. Rules: Incentives, punishments, constraints

4. Self-Organization: The power to add, change, or evolve system structure

3. Goals: The purpose of the system

2. Paradigms: The mind-set out of which the system - its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters - arises

1.Transcending Paradigms: No paradigm is “true.”

15 Guidelines for Living in a World of Systems

Cultural Thinking patterns, and thus you and each reader’s cultural & personal thinking, are the sum total of all human needs, strengths & weaknesses, and emotions externally manifesting as a “social system.” One might think that there could be some “end” of the road as complete understanding of a system, but a real system’s insight would continue to raise even more questions.

The curious among us have been at this crossroads for some time. When we started asking systems thinking inspired questions, we founded disciplines, libraries, histories, and other stores of knowledge to continue on our social quest of knowledge of ourselves & the environment.

  • “Systems thinking makes clear even to the most committed technocrat that getting along in this world of complex systems requires more than technocracy.”

  • “Self-organizing, non-linear, feedback systems are inherently unpredictable. They are not controllable. They are understandable only in the most general way.”

Living in a World of Systems through 15 Guidelines

1) Get the beat of the system

  • Observe before Thinking or Acting. Learn system history. “Before you disturb the system in any way, watch how it behaves...Learn its history.”

  1. “This guideline is deceptively simple. Until you make it a practice, your won’t believe how many wrong turns it helps you avoid. Starting with the behavior of the system forces forces you to focus on facts, not theories. It keeps you from falling too quickly into your own beliefs or misconceptions, or those of others.”

  • “Watching what really happens, instead of listening to people’s theories of what happens, can explode many careless causal hypotheses.”

  1. “Starting with the behavior of the system directs one’s thoughts to dynamic, not static, analysis…the history of several variables plotted together begins to suggest not only what elements are in the system, but how they might be interconnected.”

  • “What's wrong?” Turns into “How did we get there? What other behavior modes are possible? If we don’t change direction, where are we going to end up?”

  1. “Discourages the common distracting tendency we all have to define a problem not by the system’s actual behavior, but by the lack of our favorite solution.”

  • “Listen to any discussion and watch people leap to solutions, usually solutions in “predict, control, or impose your will” mode, without having paid any attention to what the system is doing and why it’s doing it.”

  1. If we want to affect change within a system especially, in today’s world we have to Decenter from Technology in general.

“Nuanced historical context of the discrimination to which automated systems belongs will also add much needed texture to the abstract computational models. Without this, challenging technologically mediated discrimination risks insularity at a time when a just society demands greater interconnection and alignment between diverse epistemic communities.“

2) Expose your mental models to the light of day.

  1. Need to make assumptions visible and expressed with rigor.

  • “We have to put every one of our assumptions about the system out where others (and we ourselves) can see them. Our models have to be complete, and they have to add up, and they have to be consistent. Our assumptions can no longer slide around (mental models are very slippery), assuming one thing for purposes of one discussion and something else contradictory for purposes of the next discussion.“

  • (Evangelical Christians preaches pro-life message for abortions, but not for death row inmates.)

  1. Your mental model doesn’t have to be diagrams and equations, even though doing so is good practice.

  • “Words, lists, pictures or arrows showing how things are connects to what. The more you do that, in any form, the clearer your thinking will become, the faster you will admit your uncertainties, and correct your mistakes, and the more flexible you will learn to be.”

  • “Mental flexibility - the willingness to redraw boundaries, to notice that a system has shifted into a new mode, to see how to redesign structure - is a necessity when you live in a world with flexible systems.”

  1. “Remember, always, that everything you know, and everything everyone knows, is only a model.”

  • “Instead of becoming a champion for one possible explanation or hypothesis or model, collect as many as possible. Consider all of them to be plausible until you find some evidence that cause you to rule one out. That way you will be emotionally able to see the evidence that rules out an assumption that may become entangled with your own identity.”

  1. Scientific method

  • “Getting models out into the light of day, making them as rigorous as possible, testing them against the evidence, and willing to scuttle them if they are longer supported is nothing more than practicing the scientific method - something that is done too seldom in science, and is done hardly at all in social science or management or government or everyday life.”

3) Honor, respect, and distribute information.

  1. “Information holds systems together and how delayed, biased, scattered, or missing information can make feedback loops malfunction.”

  • “Decision makers can’t respond to information they don’t have, can't respond accurately to information that is inaccurate, and can’t respond in a timely way to information that is late.”

  • “I would guess that most of what goes wrong in systems goes wrong because of biased, late, or missing information.”

  • Releasing previously withheld information

  • Toxic Release Inventory legislation of 1986 - required companies to report all hazardous air pollutants emitted from their factories each year. Because of that and FOIA, the first data became available to the public. No Lawsuits, no required reductions, no fines, no penalties.

  • Within two years, emission had decreased 40 percent.

  1. Information is power.

  • “Anyone interested in power grasps that idea very quickly. The media, the public relations people, the politicians, and advertisers who regulate much of the public flow of information have far more power than most people realize. THEY FILTER AND CHANNEL INFORMATION. Often they do so for short-term, self-interested purposes. It’s no wonder that our social system so often run amok.”

4) Use language with care and enrich it with systems concepts.

  1. “Our information streams are composed primarily of language. Our mental models are mostly verbal.”

  • Fred Kofman wrote of language in a systems journal: “Language can serve as a medium through which we create new understandings and new realities as we begin to talk about them. In fact, we don’t talk about what we see; we see only what we can talk about. Our perspectives on the world depend on the interaction of our nervous system and our language - both act as filters through which we perceive our world...The language and information systems of an organization are not an objective means of describing an outside reality - they fundamentally structure the perception and actions of its members. To reshape the measurement and communication systems of a society is to reshape all potential interactions at the most fundamental level. Language...as articulation of reality is more primordial than strategy, structure, or...culture.”

“If society talks incessantly about productivity but don’t understand the word resilience or its use then the society will be productive and not resilient. If we don’t understand carrying capacity then we will exceed our carrying capacity. “Creating jobs” from companies takes away inspiration to create jobs for themselves than anyone else.”
  • A society that talk about a “peacekeeper” missile or “collateral damage,” a “final solution” or “ethnic cleansing” is speaking tyrannese.

  • Wendell Berry says: “My impression is that we have seen, for perhaps a hundred and fifty years, a gradual increase in language that is either meaningless or destructive of meaning. And I believe that this increasing unreliability of language parallels the increasing disintegration, over the same period, of persons and communities....In this degenerative accounting, language is almost without the power of designation, because it is used conscientiously to refer to nothing in particular. Attention rests upon percentages, categories, abstract functions...It is not language that the user will very likely be required to stand by or to act on, for it does not define any personal ground for standing or acting. It's only practical utility is to support with “expert opinion” a vast, impersonal technological action already begun. It is a tyrannical language: tyrannese.

  1. Honoring language means above all avoiding language pollution - making the cleanest possible use we can of language. 

  • “The first step in respecting language is keeping it as concrete, meaningful, and truthful as possible - part of the job of keeping information streams clear.”

  1. Second, it means expanding our language so we can talk about complexity.

  • Word process spell check didn’t have words like: feedback, through-put, overshoot, self-organization, and sustainability. (In 2008’)

5) Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.

  1. “Our culture, obsessed with numbers, has given us the idea that what we can measure is more important than what we can’t measure.”

  • Quantity > Quality

  1. “Pretending that something doesn’t exist if it’s hard to quantify leads to faulty models. You already saw the system trap that comes from setting goals around what is easily measured that than around what is important.”

  • Human beings can count, but also have the ability to access quality. So, be a quality detector!!!

  1. “If something is ugly, say so. If it is tacky, inappropriate, out of proportion, unsustainable, morally degrading, ecologically impoverishing, or humanely demeaning, don’t let it pass. Don’t be stopped by the “if you can’t define it and measure it, I don’t have to pay attention to it” ploy. No one can define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love. No one can define or measure any value. But if no one speaks up for them, if systems aren’t designed to produce them, if we don’t speak about them and point toward their presence or absence, they will cease to exist.”

6) Make feedback policies for feedback systems.

  1. “What gets measured gets done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, what gets rewarded gets repeated.” ~ John E. Jones

  2. “A dynamic, self-adjusting feedback system cannot be governed by a static, unbending policy. It’s easier, more effective, and usually much cheaper to design policies that change depending on the state of the system.”

  • “Especially where there are great uncertainties, the best policies not only contain feedback loops, but meta-feedback loops - loops that alter, correct, and expand loops.”

  • Jimmy Carter tried twice and failed to institute feedback policies. Neither happened.

  • Tax on gasoline proportional to the fraction of US oil consumption that had to be imported.

  • Instead of spending money on border guards and security, we should help build the Mexican economy, and do so until the immigration problem stopped

  • “These are policies that design learning into the management process.”

  • Montreal protocol is an example. Signed in 1987, no certainty about danger, rate at degrading, or specific effect of chemicals. Set rates obviously, BUT ALSO required monitoring the situation and reconvening an international congress to change the phase out schedule if needed. Three years later, they sped things up since the initial damage was greater than first thought. A structured for learning feedback policy.

7) Go for the good of the whole.

  • “Remember that hierarchies exist to serve the bottom layers, not the top. Don’t maximize parts of the systems or subsystems while ignoring the whole. Don’t, as Kenneth Boulding once said, go to great trouble to optimize something that never should be done at all.

  • Aim to enhance total systems properties, such as growth, stability, diversity, resilience, and sustainability - whether they are easily measured or not.”


8) Listen to the wisdom of the system.

  • Aid and encourage the forces and structures that help the system run itself. Many of which are at the bottom of the hierarchy.

  • “Before you charge in to make things better, pay attention to the value of what’s already there.”

  • Aid agencies arrive and want to “create jobs,” and “attract outside investors,” and “increasing entrepreneurial spirit.”

  • All while walking right past thriving city centers, markets, and small scale business who were literally doing everything above.

  • So no outside investors, but inside ones. “Small loans available at reasonable interest rates, and classes in literacy and accounting, would produce much more long term good for the community than bringing in a factory or assembly plan from outside.”

9) Locate responsibility within the system. (Skin in the Game ‘esque)

Guideline both for analysis & design.

  1. Analysis - What are the way the system creates its own behavior. Paying attention to triggering events or outside forces that bring about one kind of behavior from the system rather than another.

  • “Intrinsic Responsibility means that the system is designed to send feedback about the consequences of decision making directly and quickly and compellingly to the decision makers. 

  • Pilot rides in front of the plane, so they will experience directly the consequences of their actions.

  • Temperature control decisions to central computer to save money, created other problems of over correcting and headaches to deal with.

  • More than one option, but professors could of still been responsible for the temperature but charge them directly for the amount of energy they use.

  • Watch the borneo cats feedback loop story below in the Videos section.

  1. Design - Our current culture doesn’t look for responsibility within the system hat generates an action, and how poorly we design systems to experience the consequences of their actions.

  • Lost when rulers who declared war were no longer leading troops in battle. Even more so with drone strikes and distance between action and its consequences.

  • “Garrett Hardin has suggested that people who want to prevent other people from having an abortion are not practicing intrinsic responsibility, unless they are personally willing to bring up the resulting child.”

10) Stay humble - stay a learner.

  1. Constantly reminded, as we should be, of how incomplete my/your/our mental models are, how complex the world is, and how much I/you/we don’t know.

  • Learning is the only way. The way you learn is experiment. Buckminster Fuller put it: “by trial and error, error, error.”

  1. “Stay the course” is only a good idea if you’re sure you’re on course!

  2. “It’s hard. It means making mistakes and, worse admitting them. It takes a lot of courage to embrace your errors.”

  • Psychologist Don Michael calls this “error-embracing.”

  • “Distrust of institutions and authority figures is increasing. The very act of acknowledging uncertainty could help greatly to reverse this worsening trend.”

“Error-embracing is the condition for learning. It means seeking and using - and sharing - information about what went wrong with what you expected or hoped would go right. Both error embracing and living with high levels of uncertainty emphasize our personal as well as societal vulnerability. Typically we hide our vulnerabilities from ourselves as well as from others. But...to be the kind of person who truly accepts his responsibility...requires knowledge of and access to self far beyond that possessed by most people in this society.”

11) Celebrate complexity.

  1. The reality is the universe is messy, non linear, turbulent, dynamic, self-organizing, every evolving, creating diversity AND uniformity. This paradox makes the world interesting and beautiful.

  2. Humans also have a paradox to deal with themselves. The mind is “attracted to straight lines and not curves, to whole numbers and not fractions, to uniformity and not diversity, and to certainties and not mystery.” BUT we also have an opposite set of attraction constantly pulling at this apparent innateness but us being the product of complex feedback systems.

  3. Should celebrate and encourage self-organization, disorder, variety, and diversity.

  • Aldo Leopold, made a moral code out of it: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

12) Expand time horizons.

  1. The longer the operant time horizon, the better the chances for survival.

  2. Interest rates are in the hall of fame of humanity’s worst ideas. A rational, quantitative excuse for ignoring the long term.

  3. “In a strict systems sens, there is no long-term, short term distinction. Phenomena at different time-scales are nested within each other...Systems are always coupling and uncoupling the large and the small, the fast and the slow...You need to be watching both the short and the long term- the whole system.”

13) Defy disciplines.

  1. Following the system anywhere it leads will be sure to lead you across traditional disciplinary lines. You will have to learn from the discipline, see through their honest lens but discard the distortions from their horse blinders. 

  • “Interdisciplinary communication works only if there is a real problem to be solved, and if the representatives from the various disciplines are more committed to solving the problem than to being academically correct. They will have to go into learning mode. They will have to admit ignorance and be willing to be taught, by each other and by the system. It can be done. It’s very exciting when it happens.”

14) Expand the boundary of caring.

  1. If moral arguments are not sufficient in rigor for you then systems thinking has pragmatic reasons to back up morals.

  • “The real system is interconnected. No part of the human race is separate either from human beings or from the global ecosystem”

15) Don’t erode the goal of goodness.

  1. Modern industrial culture has eroded the goal of morality. Bad human behavior is held up as typical and basically glorified by media and culture, this is expectation since we are human. There are far more numerous examples of “goodness,” but they are exceptions of saintly behavior and can't expect everyone to do that.

Literary critic & naturalist puts it this way: “Thus though man has never before been so complacent about what he has, or so confident of his ability to do whatever he sets his mind upon, it is at the same time true that he never before accepted so low an estimate of what he is. That same scientific method which enabled him to create his wealth and to unleash the power he wields has, he believes, enabled biology and psychology to explain him away - or at least to explain away whatever used to seem unique or even in any way mysterious...Truly he is, for all his wealth and power, poor in spirit.”
  • “System thinking can only tell us to do that. It can’t do it. We’re back to the gap understanding and implementation. Systems thinking by itself cannot bridge that gap, but it can lead us to the edge of what analysis can do and then point beyond - to what can and must be done by the human spirit.”

Onward to the future with a systems thinking worldview!

The future cannot be predicted, but it can be envisioned with foresight, critical thinking, and a holistic approach to any mental model. All we can do is have a commitment to learning, designing, and the most important part - redesigning with the knowledge & expertise of the previous design history. The world is full of surprises, and we have to learn from each and every one!

  • “We can’t control systems or figure them out. But we can dance with them!”

  • “Stay wide awake, pay close attention, participate flat out, and respond to feedback.”

  • “Living successfully in a world of system requires more of us, than our ability to calculate. It requires our full humanity - our rationality, our ability to sort truth from falsehood, our intuition, our compassion, our vision, and our morality.”


1) Thinking in Systems: A Primer

“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… 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.”

2) Introduction to Systems Thinking

“It’s been said that systems thinking is one of the key management competencies for the 21st century. As our world becomes ever more tightly interwoven globally and as the pace of change continues to increase, we will all need to become increasingly “system-wise.” This volume gives you the language and tools you need to start applying systems thinking principles and practices in your own organization.”

3) Top 15 books on Systems Thinking by DZone

“I created this list by finding suggestions on Systems Thinking groups (here, here and here), and some intensive searches on Amazon. The results are ranked by a combination of rating and popularity, both on Amazon and GoodReads. (For example, Peter M. Senge’s book is the most popular, but Donella Meadows book has better ratings both on Amazon and on GoodReads, which is why her book won the top slot.)”

4) A Systems Story key concepts PDF


1) Systems Thinking for Social Change

“In this interview, Mr. Stroh offers practical advice on how systems thinking can, to echo his book’s subtitle, solve complex problems, avoid unintended consequences, and achieve lasting results. Listen to the full conversation on the player below, and/or scroll down to read a transcript provided by the Business of Giving.”

2) An Educator's Guide to Systems Thinking

“In this episode, Angie talks with systems educator and award-winning author, Linda Booth Sweeney. Booth Sweeney describes her work as a systems educator and explains why understanding systems is so important. She shares many wonderful examples and stories of patterns (and feedback loops) that show up in everyday life and explains how seeing a pattern is the very first step toward influencing change. Booth Sweeney also talks about her books and why storytelling is such an instrumental tool in her work.”

3) Systems Thinking Podcasts from PlayerFM

“Best Systems Thinking podcasts we could find (Updated July 2019)”


1 - Systems Thinking

“A short video explaining the primary differences between analytical methods of reasoning and systems thinking while also discussing the two methods that underpin them; synthesis and reductionism.” - Systems Academy

2) Systems thinking: a cautionary tale (cats in Borneo)

“This video about systems thinking tells the story of "Operation Cat Drop" that occurred in Borneo in the 1950's. It is a reminder that when solutions are implemented without a systems perspective they often create new problems.”

3) Systems-thinking: A Little Film About a Big Idea

“Our Mission-Vision is to Engage, Educate, and Empower 7 Billion Systems Thinkers to solve everyday and wicked problems.”- Cabrera Research Lab

4) TEDxDirigo - Eli Stefanski - Making Systems Thinking Sexy

“Elizabeth Stefanski is an impatient social innovation junkie with over a decade of experience in building and leading social ventures. She recently joined the Business Innovation Factory as chief market maker, where she is attracting capital and building partnerships to generate new models for transforming complex social systems. Stefanski also serves as advisor and gender-centric design expert to Bazaar Strategies, rolling out emerging market innovations in mobile technology.” - TEDx

5) Systems Thinking in a Digital World - Peter Senge

“Peter Senge explores how we have shifted in to a new generation of systems thinking. He asks us to think about how we use technology and how that technology influences, for better and worse, the ways we communicate and connect.” - Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education

Additional Videos:

Websites & Groups:

1) Systems Thinking, Systems Tools and Chaos Theory

“Three of the biggest breakthroughs in how we understand and successfully guide changes in ourselves, others and organizations are systems theory, systems thinking and systems tools. To understand how they are used, we first must understand the concept of a system. Many of us have an intuitive understanding of the concept. However, we need to make that intuition even more explicit in order to use systems thinking and systems tools.”

2) The Systems Thinker

“With the launch of thesystemsthinker.com, we hope to drive much broader adoption of this insightful material. Our intention is for the site to be an archive of already published material. At this time, we’re not planning on publishing new material.”

3) The Donella Meadows Project: Academy for Systems Change

“The mission of the Donella Meadows Project is to preserve Donella (Dana) H. Meadows’s legacy as an inspiring leader, scholar, writer, and teacher; to manage the intellectual property rights related to Dana’s published work; to provide and maintain a comprehensive and easily accessible archive of her work online, including articles, columns, and letters; to develop new resources and programs that apply her ideas to current issues and make them available to an ever-larger network of students, practitioners, and leaders in social change. Read More

4) Waters Center for Systems Thinking

“The Waters Center for Systems Thinking is an internationally recognized leader in system thinking capacity building. We are dedicated to providing the tools and methods that help people understand, track, and leverage the connections that affect their personal and professional goals.”

What’s Next?

The next newsletter will be on Object Oriented Ontology (OOO), specifically the book by the same name written by Graham Harmon.

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