In This Review

Thinking in Systems: A Primer
Thinking in Systems: A Primer
By Donella H. Meadows
240 pp, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008
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An old metaphor to describe the behavior of complex systems is that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can create a tornado in Texas. This metaphor is even more relevant today. From economic crises and environmental destruction to political insecurity and growing inequity, the challenges of the twenty-first century are becoming more complex and interconnected every day. There are no silver bullets for them, and often the scope of the problems cannot be understood until solutions are tried. Governments, businesses, and philanthropic groups need to adopt a holistic perspective to respond to these global challenges and capture hidden opportunities.

A blueprint to help leaders and decision-makers develop this perspective is presented in Thinking in Systems, a book that explores the subtle yet powerful components of systems thinking, such as feedback loops, nonlinear relationships, and leverage points. Meadows distills the essence of this important problem-solving paradigm, noting that systems demonstrate "adaptive, dynamic, . . . and sometimes evolutionary" behavior in which the whole proves to be greater than the sum of its parts. Presented in a clear and accessible manner, the book makes evident that in order to succeed in the world ahead, prediction, control, and siloed analysis must be transformed into a framework in which complexities are embraced, silos broken, and partnerships welcomed. Doing so will not be easy, but as Meadows notes, only then can we "use our insights to make a difference in ourselves and our world."

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