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.
A Classic from a beloved Educator
What this is: notes, background and insights on the topic from an MIT and Dartmouth professor.
What this isn’t: anecdotes, a Dummies guide.
Reading this book reminds me of the best college classes and professors. There are wonderful examples of each of the topics and concise explanations. This is not a technical or mathematical guide it’s a general explanation for nonspecialists. It’s an easy read and is highly rated everywhere I checked.
Just a bunch of anecdotes
It’s an interesting book at first. But at the end of the day, it’s clear it’s just a Leftist rant about environmentalism and other topics the author was an activist for. Regardless of that, the book is literally just contrived anecdotes. At first, these are really useful to help understand the basic concepts she’s trying to get across. But after a while, you realize that the whole book is filled with little one-liner examples of whatever concept she’s talking about. As if 100 minor examples about a topic can suddenly impart the depths of research and wisdom that the author purportedly possesses about systems thinking.
I was hoping to come out of this learning how to rigorously apply critical systems thinking skills to my job and everyday life. Instead, I got a bunch of surface level assumptions with no depth and a good helping of Liberal politics.
A valuable framework for systems thinking
This book gives a wide breadth of examples and anecdotes to help people understand the complex factors that contribute to the inner workings of systems. To truly get the most impact out of the book, it’s important to take the author’s examples and apply the concepts into your own situations. Sure, the idea of water flow from the tap to the tub (inflow) and from the tub to the drain (outflow) seem like easy enough concepts to understand, but translating the concepts of inflow and outflow to real-world factors in your own industry will give you a greater appreciation for how to manage the chaos of a dynamic system. She uses easy-to-understand examples that nicely illustrate the different concepts and will help you see the bigger picture without getting bogged down into heavy math. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn the fundamentals of complex systems and how to apply them, not like the idiot reviewer who complained that this book was about leftist ideals.