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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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, …

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 …

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.

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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, …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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.

Changing Our Systems by Changing Our Brains: The Leverage in Mindfulness

According to recent findings in neuroscience, not only do sensory experiences and actions change the brain’s physical structure, but so does thinking. Concentrating on …

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 …

What Are Mental Models? Part 2

TEAM TIP Look for things that rise and fall in your organization, such as employee motivation, product sales, progress on goals, etc. What are …

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.

Reinforcing and Balancing Loops: Building Blocks of Dynamic Systems

In the book The Double Helix James Watson describes the process through which he and Robert Crick “cracked” the DNA code. While others were searching …

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 …

Check In, Check Out: A Tool for “Real” Conversations

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 …

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, …

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 …

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 …

What Are Mental Models?

In writing and teaching people about systems thinking, my colleagues and I at I see systems often refer to “mental models.” For some people, …

Mental Models and Systems Thinking: Going Deeper into Systemic Issues

In a causal loop diagram of a systemic issue, variables are connected in cause-and-effect relationships. But often the implicit thought processes behind those links …

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 …

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 …

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 Structure of Paradox: Managing Interdependent Opposites

When faced with a problem, how often do teams within your organization become polarized around proposed solutions that are opposites? For example, one group …

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.

Operational Thinking

The first three systems thinking skills help you establish an extensive (breadth) and intensive (depth) boundary for your mental or computer-based model. The next …

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 …

Dialogic Leadership

When Monsanto and American Home Products dissolved their intended merger last year, it was not due to a lack of strategic or market synergy, …

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 …

The Vocabulary of Systems Thinking: A Pocket Guide

Systems thinking can be thought of as a language for communicating about complexity and interdependencies (see “Systems Thinking as a Language,” Viewpoint, April 1991). To …

Pocket Guide: Systems Clues in Everyday Language

How many times have you heard someone say, “This is spiraling out of control”? When people use these kinds of phrases, they intuitively give hints …