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Publisher's Summary

In the years following her role as the lead author of the international best seller, Limits to Growth - the first book to show the consequences of unchecked growth on a finite planet - Donella Meadows remained a pioneer of environmental and social analysis until her untimely death in 2001. 

Thinking in Systems is a concise and crucial book offering insight for problem-solving on scales ranging from the personal to the global. Edited by the Sustainability Institute's Diana Wright, this essential primer brings systems thinking out of the realm of computers and equations and into the tangible world, showing listeners how to develop the systems-thinking skills that thought leaders across the globe consider critical for 21st-century life. 

Some of the biggest problems facing the world - war, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation - are essentially system failures. They cannot be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others, because even seemingly minor details have enormous power to undermine the best efforts of too-narrow thinking. 

While listeners will learn the conceptual tools and methods of systems thinking, the heart of the book is grander than methodology. Donella Meadows was known as much for nurturing positive outcomes as she was for delving into the science behind global dilemmas. She reminds listeners to pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable, to stay humble, and to stay a learner. 

In a world growing ever more complicated, crowded, and interdependent, Thinking in Systems helps listeners avoid confusion and helplessness, the first step toward finding proactive and effective solutions. 

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio. 

©2008 Sustainability Institute (P)2018 Chelsea Green Publishing

What listeners say about Thinking in Systems

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Left me craving for more systems literature

I've been thinking about feedback loops for years but never realized there was a field of study that covered the topic.

Given the immense impact of feedback loops in all facets of (my) life, its certainly something worth studying more in depth. While the book goes much further, learning the definition of a feedback loop was even valuable: in a system that involves a stock, >= 1 inflow, and >= 1 outflow, a feedback loop occurs when there is a relationship between the level of a stock and the level of a flow. This is in essence another way to describe exponential growth.

This book discusses different system archetypes, of which on the highest level are reinforcing feedback loops (where more stock results in more inflow or less outflow), and balancing feedback loops (where more stock results in less inflow or more outflow). Without intervening to slow their growth, or through the counter via balancing feedback loops, reinforcing feedback loops will destroy themselves. Slowing growth in reinforcing loops is a leverage point can be fruitful for enhancing the sustainability of almost any system - the ecosystem, the economy, our bodies - and is more effective than the addition of balancing feedback loops. Other key leverage points, or viable intervention points in systems are setting up system rules/laws/incentives, reducing information asymmetry ("Thou shalt not distort, delay, or sequester information"), defining a system's purpose, and understanding the paradigms that led to a purpose. Instead, many people in charge of system decisions spend their time on low-level parameter tweaking such as how much political is energy spent on increasing the minimum wage; not only are these changes unlikely to have a significant impact on system performance, given the counter-intuitiveness of systems people often push these levers in the wrong direction.

Donella applies systems thinking to a host of systems common in daily life; I will now think if these in a much different, fuller way going forward. I'm excited to continue my study of this lens on the world.

12 people found this helpful

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Changed the way I approach my work

I came to this book with no systems thinking background. It helped me get a foundation for the elements and influence on systems, and provided a framework for approaching problems by looking for stocks, inflows and outflows of system at hand. It has already influenced how I craft goals, consider stakeholders, and make strategic choices. I’m not a systems thinker because of this book. However, I’m a slightly better leader because of its lessons.

It can be a little difficult for a novice to listen to the first several chapters. Those chapters cover key concepts that would benefit from pictorial representations of the systems concepts. I’m listening to the book a second time, and I’m picking up a lot more this time.

9 people found this helpful

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Skip to the Middle

The first and last chapters of this book are useless, but the middle is wonderful. The intro tries to hook you with a "you guys think differently" monologue that comes across like an evangelist seeking a convert; and the conclusion mixes a bunch of unsubstantiated and unconnected ethical theses in with a few plausible applications of systems thinking to life in general. If you want to learn the subject, this book will certainly help you. The middle is serious writing and presents the topic in an approachable fashion; but do yourself a favor and listen ONLY to the middle.

8 people found this helpful

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Excellent and enjoyable intro to System Dynamics

I love this book and listening to this audio version is a delightful experience. Tia Rider Sorensen narrates this perfectly.

Donella Meadows was truly an inspiring systems thinker. Her marvellous insights are so well and clearly communicated throughout this book that it will keep interested both the System Dynamics practitioner and the Layman alike.

This is a book that I wished all policymakers in the world would read/listen to.

8 people found this helpful

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Makes you analyze everything from a different perspective

Very thought provoking read, provides real world and hypothetical examples of how you can look at something from a whole new perspective than how you already do. Concepts can be applied to any domain.

6 people found this helpful

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Perfect intro into system thinking

really enjoyed the reader and the content. I would recommend to anyone looking to have a better understanding of why our ecosystem or world, in general, are all interconnected.

10 people found this helpful

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Excellent!!!

Very good explanation of what I thought I already knew. I was wrong. Enjoyed and engaged every minute of it.

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systems allow us to better understand the world

Very interesting. And it became more captivating with each chapter. I'll recommend it to others.

9 people found this helpful

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Must Read for Management

This was a required reading book for one of my MBA classes. The narration is a bit dry and it drones on a little bit, but the material is so comprehensive and useful that it's worth pushing through. Awesome book to help you see the bigger picture and how to avoid common circular traps!
#SelfDevelopment #Systems #tagsgiving #sweepstakes

4 people found this helpful

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Really not a book

As the preamble states this was some notes that was published as a book after the authors death. Really presents two basic ideas of a reinforcing feedback and a balancing feedback and then some very high level ideas and examples she admits were from one week of a newspaper. Would not recommend

11 people found this helpful

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  • Mr David Igoe
  • 04-17-19

Applicable tools and techniques

There are probably two parts to this: The mapping (1/5) then real life applications (4/5.)

I'm a sucker for any models that stand the test of time and have diverse use cases. This book on systems ticks both boxes.

4 people found this helpful

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  • David Wylie
  • 07-16-19

Thought provoking and useful on many levels

genuinely one of the best books I have listened to. has changed the way I view my business and the world at large

3 people found this helpful

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  • Dr Dave
  • 08-23-18

Brilliant introduction/reintroduction

Brilliant introduction/reintroduction to systems thinking. very accessable (and well read).
A primer (as in the title) but filled with valuable insights.
I would definitely recommend this book to others.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Mark Sandland
  • 02-18-19

A Powerful Way of Seeing

This book has helped me to see the world on new ways, and has revealed new ways of tackling challenges. I had heard of Systems Thinking through my other studies, but this book has given me a solid grounding in the basics of what it is, how it works, and how it can be used to solve real problems.

2 people found this helpful

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  • adrian
  • 02-28-21

Awesome book.

Necessary to start understanding the society and also to understand that there will always be a lot that it is not understandable.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-08-19

insightful and down to earth

easy listen, good for anyone looking to improve thinking models and remind of whats really important

1 person found this helpful

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  • Thieffry Axel
  • 04-26-21

Not good for audiobook format

I recognize that this book is important and can be life-changing, but explaining the same super simple concept in 10 different ways is not needed, and very boring. I could stand this for a full hour, then it had to stop. I returned the book.

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  • Gavin Dobbins
  • 04-15-21

not great, hung on until the end

struggled to finish this, it just really goes over and over the same point 😕

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  • S.Beazer
  • 12-12-20

The best introduction for the layman

Don't be fooled by the age of the book. As a practicing systems engineer in 2020, I can tell you the topics and overarching message in the book are still relevant.

The author makes the ideas behind systems thinking very accessible and I would recommend this to any beginner or interested layman.

If you practice the topics in the book, you really will start to see your thinking and perspectives change.

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  • Olly Buxton
  • 11-21-20

really enjoyed it

Brief, well-argued, well narrated. liked it so much I bought the Kindle too. of a piece with Charles Perrow’s Normal Accidents. More here: https://jollycontrarian.com/index.php?title=Thinking_in_Systems_-_Book_Review

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  • David
  • 01-18-19

Slow but worth your patience

The book assumes no prior knowledge. So someone familiar with systems thinking might fast forward a lot. Good news, for some, there is no maths in this book.
This is skilfully written, describes familiar scenarios and examples to explain the concepts.
A simple system is explained as a ‘stock’ with in-flows, out-flows and feedback. Then layered goals, constraints and interventions. With the later part covering multiple interacting systems.
I found the insights quite thought provoking.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-10-19

Great book

It can easily be a new bible for anyone interested in sustainability, but this book should really be a new bible, a roadmap for our society. The last parts of this book are especially touching, make you hope that people like the author can really transform our society

2 people found this helpful

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  • Andrew
  • 11-23-20

loved it

very well written, and easy to follow with lots of modern day and historical facts and situations woven in so that it is easy to understand and follow. this would be an excellent book to read along with other systems thinking theory, understanding of complex systems and even safety sciences. this will definitely be something I will listen to again

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  • raz
  • 05-17-20

A very important book

An absolute must for anyone regardless of what discipline or professional background you have. This book helped me understand why Adam Smith’s butchers interest and division of labour is essentially faulted. An excellent and illuminating read.

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  • Val Lyashov
  • 12-19-19

decent enough high level overview

good concepts but just wish it had some meat around model design and examples. still, a good start.

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  • Summer
  • 10-25-19

A mind-opening read

A great way to understand how you should recognise and incorporate systems thinking in your daily life. Questions so complex yet so simple are described is clear terms for all of us to ponder on. A book to listen, think and relisten to over and over.

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  • ingswarrior
  • 10-18-19

Required reading for all change agents

Read and understand this then apply it to your area of social or environmental change with humility for this is the only way we can truly understand the complexity of the world and best put our energy to use on the best systemic lever points.

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  • Catherine
  • 10-14-19

Thought provoking

Useful to induce reflections on my current systems thinking and so going off into thought means having to listen to it more than once.