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!

Popular

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…

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,…

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…

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…

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…

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”…

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…

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 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…

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…

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…

Connecting to Source: The U-Process

As a writer, on a handful of occasions, I’ve produced work that stands far above everything else I’ve written. This work has a special…

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 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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

Escalation: The Dynamics of Insecurity

Have you ever been caught in a situation where you felt that things were going well beyond what you intended, but you felt powerless to…

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…

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…

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…

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…

People in Context, Part I

Our efforts to understand and intervene in organizational events have a persistent bias: to interpret phenomena from a personal framework. In other words, situations…

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…

The Common Flaw of All Problem-Solving Models

We suspect that every reader of this newsletter has been steeped in articles and classes on a myriad of problem-solving techniques. We have all…

Selecting Variable Names for Causal Loop Diagrams

When first beginning to draw a causal loop diagram, don’t spend a lot of time up front trying to select the “perfect” variable name.

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…

Systems Archetypes As Structural Pattern Templates

Imagine you were suddenly struck with a strange illness that affected your vision. While you were still able to “see” everything around you, somehow…

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…

A Global System Growing Itself to Death—and What We Can Do About It

The underlying purpose of today’s global economy, most assume, is to transform natural resources into a continuously growing quantity of goods and services for…

Consultants as Problem Solvers or Capacity Builders?

As we seek ways to cope with the increasing rate and complexity of change affecting our businesses, many of us have begun to recognize…

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…

We Have to Talk: A Checklist for Difficult Conversations

Think of a conversation you’ve been putting off. Got it? Great. Then let’s go. There are dozens of books on the topic of difficult,…

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…