Thinking in Systems - by Donella H. Meadows


Thinking in Systems - by Donella H. Meadows

Read: 2023-09-23

Recommend: 2/10

The book is very bland. The quotes from other authors used in this book are more interesting than this book.


Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:

  1. If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves. . . . There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding. —ROBERT PIRSIG , Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

  2. Managers do not solve problems, they manage messes.

  3. So, what is a system? A system is a set of things—people, cells, molecules, or whatever—interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior over time.

  4. The flu virus does not attack you; you set up the conditions for it to flourish within you.

  5. Drug addiction is not the failing of an individual and no one person, no matter how tough, no matter how loving, can cure a drug addict—not even the addict. It is only through understanding addiction as part of a larger set of influences and societal issues that one can begin to address it.

  6. Because of feedback delays within complex systems, by the time a problem becomes apparent it may be unnecessarily difficult to solve.

  7. [盲人摸象] The Blind Men and the Matter of the Elephant

  8. A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something. If you look at that definition closely for a minute, you can see that a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements , interconnections , and a function or purpose .

  9. A system generally goes on being itself, changing only slowly if at all, even with complete substitutions of its elements—as long as its interconnections and purposes remain intact.

  10. A system stock is just what it sounds like: a store, a quantity, an accumulation of material or information that has built up over time.

  11. A stock is the memory of the history of changing flows within the system.

  12. A feedback loop is a closed chain of causal connections from a stock, through a set of decisions or rules or physical laws or actions that are dependent on the level of the stock, and back again through a flow to change the stock .

  13. Balancing feedback loops are equilibrating or goal-seeking structures in systems and are both sources of stability and sources of resistance to change.

  14. The second kind of feedback loop is amplifying, reinforcing, self-multiplying, snowballing—a vicious or virtuous circle that can cause healthy growth or runaway destruction. It is called a reinforcing feedback loop

  15. The time it takes for an exponentially growing stock to double in size, the “doubling time,” equals approximately 70 divided by the growth rate (expressed as a percentage).

  16. Resilience, self-organization, and hierarchy are three of the reasons dynamic systems can work so well. Promoting or managing for these properties of a system can improve its ability to function well over the long term—to be sustainable.

  17. Hierarchical systems evolve from the bottom up. The purpose of the upper layers of the hierarchy is to serve the purposes of the lower layers.

  18. There are three ways to avoid the tragedy of the commons.

    1. Educate and exhort . Help people to see the consequences of unrestrained use of the commons. Appeal to their morality. Persuade them to be temperate. Threaten transgressors with social disapproval or eternal hellfire.

    2. Privatize the commons . Divide it up, so that each person reaps the consequences of his or her own actions. If some people lack the self-control to stay below the carrying capacity of their own private resource, those people will harm only themselves and not others.

    3. Regulate the commons . Garrett Hardin calls this option, bluntly, “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon.” Regulation can take many forms, from outright bans on certain behaviors to quotas, permits, taxes, incentives. To be effective, regulation must be enforced by policing and penalties.

  19. The truth was, we didn’t even follow our advice. We gave learned lectures on the structure of addiction and could not give up coffee. We knew all about the dynamics of eroding goals and eroded our own jogging programs. We warned against the traps of escalation and shifting the burden and then created them in our own marriages.