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

“Positive” Systems Archetypes

Many readers of The Systems Thinker are familiar with the systems archetypes developed in the mid- 1980s based on the work of Jay Forrester, …

Overcoming the Seven Sustainability Blunders

In response to growing environmental and social equity problems, hundreds of private and public “sustainable development” initiatives have blossomed across the globe since the …

A Palette of Systems Thinking Tools

In this issue’s Toolbox it may be helpful to lay out the full array of systems thinking tools from which this column draws. You can …

The Process of Dialogue: Creating Effective Communication

Consider any complex, potentially volatile issue — Arab-Israeli relations; the problems between the Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians; the U.S. deficit, healthcare costs, or labor/management …

Causal Loop Construction: The Basics

Systems thinking has been described as a language for talking about the complex, interdependent issues managers face every day. Within that framework, causal loop …

Making the Jump to Systems Thinking

When Albert Einstein began to play with the theory of quantum physics, he didn’t like it. He spent a few years trying to disprove …

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 …

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 …

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 …

Integrating Systems Thinking and Design Thinking

As readers of this newsletter are aware, systems thinking is evolving as an alternative to the old paradigms. Richard Mattessich wrote that “systems thinking …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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, …

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.

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 …

From Spreadsheets to System Dynamics Models

Decision-makers often turn to computer models when they face a problem too “big” to grasp all at once. Having the computer keep track of …

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 …

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!” …

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 …

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 …