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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Seeing Your Company as a System

Bank failures, health insurance rate hikes, and the troubles of auto manufacturers provide recent examples of the vulnerability of big, fast-changing systems and the …

Dynamic Thinking: A Behavioral Context

The first thinking skill in the systems thinking paradigm is Dynamic Thinking. It comes first because you must be able to think dynamically in …

Revitalizing the Schools: A Systems Thinking Approach

Fortune magazine recently labeled the U.S. school system “our most endangered institution,” highlighting a growing national concern about the quality of education in America. Steadily …

From Mechanistic to Social Systemic Thinking

Each of us has a theory of reality, a concept of the nature of the world which is referred to as our worldview. Our …

Connecting Systems Thinking and Action

Everything is connected. A child randomly kicks the elephant on the mobile hanging over her crib, and the other members of the aerial zoo …

The Evolution of a Shared Vision

Margaret Wheatley describes vision not just as a destination but as a field that permeates the organization, affecting all employees who bump against it.

Building Communities of Commitment

Creating learning organizations takes more than a collection of individuals working toward the same cause; it requires building a community of learners who are …

Spiritual Intelligence: A New Paradigm for Collaborative Action

What makes a great collaboration? One view is that a collaboration is only as great as the individuals who collaborate within it. Another is …

The Systems Orientation: From Curiosity to Courage

Systems thinking is different from most other problem-solving tools because it takes into account the fact that we are a part of the system …

Dialogue: The Power of Collective Thinking

The way people talk together in organizations is rapidly becoming acknowledged as central to the creation and management of knowledge. According to Alan Webber, …

Overcoming Defensive Routines in the Workplace

Any time you hear the phrase, “Here we go again” in response to a problem, it is a clue that a pattern is in …

Conversation as a Core Business Process

Take a moment to put on a new set of glasses. Change your perspective. Consider, for a moment, that the most widespread and pervasive …

Superstitious Learning

The drive toward improvement has become a way of life in corporations today. Total Quality Management, Business Process Reengineering, and other improvement techniques have …

The Ladder of Inference

How we act depends on how we understand the situation we are in. Our understandings often seem obvious to us, as if they were …

Introducing Systems Thinking into Your Organization

So you’ve read The Fifth Discipline, attended the Pegasus “Systems Thinking in Action” Conference, bought simulation software, and created your first computer models. You’re …

Toward Learning Organizations: Integrating Total Quality Control and Systems Thinking

Total Quality Control and systems thinking have complementary strengths that can greatly enhance an organization’s ability to improve its performance. How? Through a more balanced …

The Blind Men and the Elephant

The parable of the blind men and the elephant illustrates how our individual perceptions (what Peter Senge calls our “mental models”) can lead to …

Overcoming Organizational Anxiety

Iam working sixty hours a week and don’t see an end in sight.” “If we don’t meet this quarter’s profit projections, heads will roll!” …

Hexagons: From Ideas to Variables

System thinking tools, such as causal loop diagrams, foster high-quality thinking, communication, and decision-making in teams. But plunging into the realm of complex, dynamic …

Check-in Check-out

Your daughter was sick last night and you didn’t get much sleep. Tony’s car was rear-ended on the way to the office. Vivian has …

Productive Conversations: Using Advocacy and Inquiry Effectively

We can gain leverage for improving conversations by paying attention to advocacy and inquiry. Advocacy is stating one’s views. Describing what I think, disclosing …

Pocket Guide: Guidelines for Drawing Causal Loop Diagrams

This handy pocket guide outlines a 10-step process for drawing effective causal loop diagrams–including selecting variable names, constructing the actual loops, distinguishing between reinforcing and …

Creating Business Results Through Team Learning

As of 1993, Sigma Tech (a fictional name) was one of the most successful small corporations in the U.S. The company’s business was both …

Communities of Practice: Learning as a Social System

You are a claims processor working for a large insurance company. You are good at what you do, but although you know where your …

The “Thinking” in Systems Thinking: How Can We Make It Easier to Master?

Despite significant advances in personal computers and systems thinking software over the last decade, learning to apply systems thinking effectively remains a tough nut …

Moving from Blame to Accountability

When something goes wrong in an organization, the first question that is often posed is, “Whose fault is it?” When there’s data missing in …

The Supply/Demand See-Saw: A Generic Structure

Using a systems thinking approach can expand our understanding of a particular problem or issue by helping us view our actions in the context …

Systems Thinking Course Aims at Developing Managerial Competency

The Systems Thinking Competency Course (STCC) project at the MIT Sloan School of Management is exploring how systems thinking can be translated into the workplace.

Pocket Guide: Using the Archetypes

This handy pocket guide builds on Systems Archetypes at a Glance. This guide lays out a specific application for each archetype–for example, using “Growth and …

Facilitative Modeling: Using Small Models to Generate Big Insights

All you need to do is read the paper or watch the news to realize that the world is becoming more difficult to understand …

Guidelines for Designing Systemic Interventions

The phones were ringing off the hook and the fax machine was humming 24 hours a day. The entire staff of the specialty goods …

Using Organizational Learning Tools to Build Community

The Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) is the largest two-year technical college in the U.S., serving nearly 70,000 students with an annual budget of …

Systems Thinking: What, Why, When, Where, and How?

If you’re reading The Systems Thinker®, you probably have at least a general sense of the benefits of applying systems thinking in the work-place.

Guidelines for Daily Systems Thinking Practice

Individual Practice Becoming a seasoned systems thinker starts with a strong commitment to developing your own awarenesses and skills. Ask Different Questions. Systems thinking offers …

Managing Organizational Learning Cycles

Imagine an organization in which all the records disintegrated overnight. Suddenly, there are no more reports, no computer files, no employee records, no operating manuals, …

Human Dynamics for the 21st Century

As a global society increasingly becomes a reality and people strive to come together across divisions of culture, religion, race, age, gender, and other …

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 …

From Individual to Shared Mental Models

Making individual mental models explicit is only one step toward fostering organizationwide learning. Since perceptions of reality can vary widely among different people in …

Thinking Systemically About Strategy

During the mid-1980s, a large high-technology company launched a project to begin thinking more systemically about strategy. “COPEX” (a fictional name) designed, manufactured, sold, …

Vision Deployment Matrix: A Framework for Large-Scale Change

Vision can be a powerful force for action when it is clearly articulated and there is a genuine desire to bring it into reality.

Palette of Systems Thinking Tools

There is a full array of systems thinking tools that you can think of in the same way as a painter views colors many …

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 …

The Leader’s Journey

Much has been written over the years about leadership — the skills required, the dynamics involved, the characteristics displayed by outstanding leaders, and so …

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 …

Using Causal Loop Diagrams to Make Mental Models Explicit

Making mental models explicit can enhance both individual and organizational learning by making individual learning more accessible and therefore more easily transferable to the …

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 …

Learning Through System Dynamics as Preparation for the 21st Century

What should be the outcome of a systems education? We do not expect most students to spend their lives in front of a computer …

Action-to-Outcome Mapping: Testing Strategy with Systems Thinking

In the “classic” systems thinking approach, a group uses mapping and modeling to help explain an important behavior over time. While we occasionally encounter …