Thinking in Systems

Since reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, I had yet to come across a book with such a high signal to noise ratio. Just finished reading Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows, and this fits the bill. I had to pause, think and ponder after reading each paragraph in order not to miss the profound underlying concepts. Very easy to read, this is one of those books that changes how you look at the world. This is a (not so) brief summary of the book.

What is a system?

A system is a set of things - people, cells, molecules, or whatever - interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behaviour over time, to achieve something. A system must consist of three things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose. Some examples include the digestive system, a company, solar system, etc.

How to identify a system?

Some properties of a system

Why Systems work so well




Why Systems surprise us

Linear minds in a Nonlinear world

System Boundaries

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must, first, invent the universe - Carl Sagan.

Layers of Limits

Bounded Rationality

Leverage Points: Places to intervene in a system

Places in the system where a small change could lead to a large shift in behaviour. Listed below in the increasing order of importance and leverage, and impact they produce.

Physical - Low leverage

12: Numbers

11: Buffers

10: Stock and Flow structures

9: Delays

Information and Control - High Leverage

8: Balancing Feedback Loops

7: Reinforcing Feedback Loops

6: Information Flows

5: Rules - Incentives, punishments, constraints

Crucial Leverage Points. These are more abstract but most effective

4: Self-Organization

3: Goals

2: Paradigms

1: Transcending Paradigms

Living in a World of Systems