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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Habits of Mind: Strategies for Disciplined Choice Making

B definition, a problem is any stimulus, question, task, phenomenon, or discrepancy for which we don’t immediately have an answer or solution. We are …

Creating Learning Organizations

The “learning organization” is fast becoming a corporate buzzword. Many companies are jumping on the bandwagon without really understanding what a learning organization is, or …

From Event Thinking to Systems Thinking

Your division has been plagued by late launches in its last five new products, and now management has charged you with “getting to the …

Transformational Learning: A Blueprint for Organizational Change

Attempting to bring about organizational change through the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, yet it may be the most effective way. The belief …

The Sustainability Challenge: Ecological and Economic Development

Imagine picking up a newspaper and reading that the country’s largest petroleum company has petitioned the government to increase the gasoline tax at the …

Trust As A Systemic Structure in Our Organizations

Trust is a subject close to many people’s hearts. Whenever I make presentations on this subject, I never cease to be amazed by the …

The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: A Guide to the Learning Organization

Jorge Valchez is an organizational development consultant at International Chocolate, Inc., a (fictional) confectionery company. A few years ago, he picked up a copy …

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 …

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 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 …

Step-By-Step Stocks and Flows: Improving the Rigor of Your Thinking

The systems thinking community has always considered stock and flow diagrams to be important tools, and recognition of their key place in the …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

Managing Your Time as a Leader

Many leaders feel starved for time. Working under the assumption that longer hours lead to improved productivity, they drive themselves and others to increase …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

All Methods Are Wrong. Some Methods Are Useful.

Interest in systems concepts is reviving and broadening. However, the sheer size of the field poses a dilemma for both newcomers and those who …

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 …

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 …

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 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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

How to See “Structure”

You have probably already learned about the importance of distinguishing among events, patterns, and structure. But still, you may be finding it difficult 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!” …

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 …

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 …

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.

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 …

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 …

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 …

Teaching Systemic Thinking: Educating the Next Generation of Business Leaders

Are we failing to adequately prepare our business leaders? Since an article in the Harvard Business Review on the topic more than 30 years …

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 …

Moving from Knower to Learner

Contrary to popular opinion, learning is not the process of merely accumulating more information. You have “learned” something only when you can produce a …

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 …

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 …

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 …

Meetings That Matter: Conversational Leadership in Today’s Schools

If the element in greatest evidence in a school system is “young people,” and the second most prevalent feature is “desks,” surely a close …

The CEO’s Role in Organizational Transformation

Why are attempts to transform organizations usually painful and so often unsuccessful? Why is it that, even when leaders recognize the value of the …

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 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 …