About The Systems Thinker

Building shared understanding

The Systems Thinker works to catalyze effective change by expanding the use of systems approaches. All articles are available free of charge in an effort to expose as wide of audience as possible. Browse, share with others, save your favorites and tell others about this valuable resource!

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Liberating Structures: A New Pattern Language for Engagement

“We change the culture by changing the nature of conversation. It’s about choosing conversations that have the power to create the future.” — Peter…

The Learning Family: Bringing the Five Disciplines Home

Roger and his wife June had been struggling with differing views about how to bring up their children. Recently, Roger attended a program about…

The “AND” Method

TEAM TIP Apply this method to anticipate— and avoid—unintended consequences before taking action. Irecently read an article by Daniel Aronson called “Targeted…

Creating Causal Theories

Peasants in southwest France have been selling smelly but delicious black truffles to restaurants for more than $600 a kilo (2.2 lb). Not surprisingly,…

Human Dynamics: A Foundation for the Learning Organization

In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge posed the question, “How can a team of committed managers with individual IQs above 120 have a collective…

Pocket Guide: Vision Deployment Matrix I: Shifting from a Reactive to a Generative Orientation

This handy pocket guide shows you what the Matrix looks like, and helps you take the first step in diagnosing your organization’s current reality. Includes…

Learning About Connection Circles

The topics elementary- and middle-school students today study are complex and often difficult to understand. Seldom is an issue as simple as it appears…

Comfort Zones

It’s a good thing we have comfort zones, those ways of acting and thinking that do not cause us stress or require much thought.

Shifting the Burden: Moving Beyond a Reactive Orientation

Although the parable of the boiled frog has become a familiar story in organizational learning circles, it does not yet seem to prevent organizations…

The World Cafe: Living Knowledge Through Conversations That Matter

Consider all the learning that occurs as people move from place to place inside and outside an organization, carrying insights and ideas from one…

The Learning Organization Journey: Assessing and Valuing Progress

Suppose you have just been appointed the CKO—Chief Knowledge Officer—of your organization. You are responsible for managing the company’s knowledge capital, including how it…

Transforming the Character of a Corporation

We judge others by what they do; we judge ourselves by our intentions.” “What you do thunders so loud, I can’t hear what you…

Ishmael: Cultural Dialogue

“TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Thus begins Ishmael, a compelling exploration of our shared assumptions…

Empowering Multigenerational Collaboration in the Workplace

Today’s workforce represents a broad range of age groups. As a result of college internships, modern healthcare, antidiscrimination laws, and a plethora of lifestyle…

Toyota’s Current Crisis: The Price of Focusing on Growth Not Quality

For the past 15 years or so, I have told audiences a story about how my perception of what determines good business performance has…

The Learning Construction Site: Unlearning and Rebuilding New Knowledge

I grew up and was educated in Rome, Italy. The European didactic style tends to be more theoretical and less interactive than that of…

From Riots to Resolution: Engaging Conflict for Reconciliation

As members of communities and organizations, many people feel their days (and their energy!) being consumed by contentious conflicts between diverse stakeholder groups. Organizations…

Leanness

Corporations today face many pressures to become “lean.” Unfortunately, most people also attach “mean” to lean, which can lead us to confuse leanness with…

From Causal Loop Diagrams to Computer Models–Part I

Imagine you are the human resources director for a company in a rapidly growing industry. Your latest strategy meeting focused on developing a human…

Balancing Loop Basics

Reinforcing processes, which we covered in last month’s issue, are only one of the building blocks of complex systems. While the snowballing effect of…

Using “Fixes That Fail” to Get Off the Problem-Solving Treadmill

It’s Monday morning. You’ve just settled in at your desk to catch up on some reading, when the phone rings. The program manager of the…

Stress Management–Whose Job Is It?

Stress management — long the domain of psychiatrists and therapists — is increasingly being recognized by corporate America as a critical workforce issue. The reason…

From Causal Loops to Graphical Functions: Articulating Chaos

This month we continue our look at Graphical Function Diagrams (GFD). GFD’s help us visually see how two variables are interrelated by plotting the relationship…

Designing Effective Learning Environments

Imagine you are part of a healthcare team that has developed a computer model to grapple with the complex and often conflicting factors involved…

Leveraging Organizational Readiness for Change

Leaders like to think that good planning and solid management are the keys to successful change. Yet too often their best efforts, combining their…

People in Context, Part II

The first part of this article, which appeared in the previous issue of The Systems Thinker (May 2010, Vol. 21 N. 4), introduced the “people-in-context”…

Embracing Vulnerability:A Core Leadership Discipline for Our Times

World events over the past several years have highlighted the need for new ways of exercising leadership. Such events include the ongoing crisis in…

Weaving Systems Thinking into the K–12 Curriculum

Thanks to the recently revised science and environmental sustainability education standards in the Washington State K–12 system, teachers are now required to teach and…

Systems Thinking Concepts for Environmental Education

The goal of education for sustainability (EFS) is “to develop in young people and adults new knowledge and new ways of thinking needed to…

Future Thinking by Middle Managers: A Neglected Necessity

This is a story about what happened to a group of technical managers working in a multinational corporation, the Big Can Corporation (BCC)*, when…

The Art of Facilitative Leadership: Maximizing Others’ Contributions

Leadership traditionally has been thought of as “doing the right thing” while management has been defined as “doing things right.” Contemporary leadership combines these…

Confessions of a Recovering Knower

Hi, my name is Brian and I am a recovering knower. But for the grace of God, and the disciplines of organizational learning, I…

What is Your Organization’s Core Theory of Success?

Managers in today’s organizations are continually confronted with new challenges and increased performance expectations. At the same time, they are bombarded by a bewildering…

Making It Happen: The Implementation Challenge

About seven years ago, a Fortune 100 corporation began a three-year, $2 million organizational experiment. The goal was to gain a sustainable competitive advantage…

Organizations as Learning Systems

The recent decline of well-established firms and the perceived need for corporate renewal has fueled a growing interest in the topic of organizational learning.

The Learning Organization: From Vision to Reality

Building learning organizations requires more than just “re-engineering” our existing structures. It requires a whole new vision of what organizations can become and a…

Levels of Understanding: “Fire-fighting” at Multiple Levels

It’s another busy night in the hospital emergency room. Several car accident victims have been rushed into surgery, one little boy is having a…

The Next Great Frontier: Designing Managerial & Social Systems

The 1990s are shaping up to be a decade of dramatic changes. The recent shake-ups at IBM and General Motors are ominous signs that…

The Need to Understand One Another

Years ago, before diversity became an almost faddish concern for managers everywhere, a wise older gentleman, John Bemis, helped me see the deep connections…

The Inner Path of Leadership

In Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership, Joe Jaworski illuminates the nature of the choice to lead and the profound worldview out of which…

Finding the Right Leverage Point

You have had some success with visionary planning and now you intend to begin using “systems thinking” to help achieve your vision. In fact you…

Leading from the Future: A New Social Technology for Our Times

We live in a time of massive institutional failure, collectively creating results that nobody wants. Climate change. AIDS. Hunger. Poverty. Violence. Terrorism. Destruction of…

Learning-Directed Leadership in a Changing World

The information-intensive, complex, and dynamic world presents unique challenges for leaders. Never before has information been so available but knowledge been so difficult to…

How Learning Works

Recently, I had a long conversation with my fifteen-year-old daughter, Elise, about why she had to learn algebra. I had helped her with a…

Learning From Everyday Conflict

Recently the president of a large professional services organization brought in an external consultant to mediate a conflict between two vice presidents. The relationship…

The New Facts of Life: Connecting the Dots on Food, Health, and the Environment

A discussion of the interrelations between food, health, and the environment is extremely topical today. Rising food prices together with the price of oil…

The Nature and Creation of Chaordic Organizations

We are living on the knife’s edge of one of those rare and momentous turning points in human history. Liveable lives for our grandchildren,…

Working in an Unhappy Place: Reengaging Disaffected Employees Through Conflict Resolution

Why can’t we all just get along?” asked Rodney King famously, echoing the sentiments of many of us who have at some point or…

It’s Not a Behavioral Problem: It’s the System

Don’t ask systems thinkers for advice on managing performance or staff engagement. They will probably say something pretty fruity, and you’ll wind up frustrated…