Barry Richmond was a pioneer in the field of
systems thinking and system dynamics, an early
supporter of Pegasus, and a friend to many in our
community. This month, we are pleased to feature an
excerpt from Tracing Connections, a new book
published by isee systems and the Creative Learning
Exchange as a tribute to Barry and his efforts to shed
new light on some of our world's darkest challenges.
|Thinking: An Excerpt from Tracing Connections
includes articles from 12 of the world's foremost
systems thinkers. Proceeds from this book will
support and train educators in systems thinking
through the Creative Learning
Exchange. This excerpt comes from the
introductory chapter, "The Thinking in Systems
Thinking: Eight Critical Skills." © 2010 isee systems,
inc., and the Creative Learning Exchange
Thinking is something we all do, but what is it?
The dictionary says it's "to have a thought; to reason,
reflect on, or ponder." Does that clear it up for you? It
didn't for me.
I will define thinking as
consisting of two activities: constructing mental
models and then simulating them in order to draw
conclusions and make decisions. We'll get to
constructing and simulating in a moment. But first,
what the heck is a mental model?
a "selective abstraction" of reality that you create and
then carry around in your head. As big as some of our
heads get, we still can't fit reality in there. Instead, we
have models of various aspects of reality. We
simulate these models in order to "make meaning"
out of what we're experiencing, and also to help us
arrive at decisions that inform our actions.
example, you have to deal with your kid, or a sibling, or
your parent. None of them are physically present
inside your head. Instead, when dealing with them in
a particular context, you select certain aspects of each
that are germane to the context. In your mind's eye,
you relate those aspects to each other using some
form of cause-and-effect logic. Then, you simulate the
interplay of these relationships under various "what if"
scenarios to draw conclusions about a best course of
action, or to understand something about what has
If you were seeking to understand
why your daughter isn't doing well in arithmetic, you
could probably safely ignore the color of her eyes
when selecting aspects of reality to include in the
mental model you are constructing. This aspect of
reality is unlikely to help you in developing an
understanding of the causes of her difficulties, or in
drawing conclusions about what to do. But, in
selecting a blouse for her birthday? Eye
color probably ought to be in that mental model.
As the preceding example nicely illustrates, all
models (mental and otherwise) are simplifications.
They necessarily omit many aspects of the realities
they represent. That statement is a paraphrase of
something George Box once uttered: "All models are
wrong; some models are useful." It's important to
dredge this hallowed truth back up into
consciousness from time to time to prevent yourself
from becoming "too attached" to one of your mental
models; nevertheless, despite the fact that all models
are wrong, you have no choice but to use them--no
choice, that is, if you are going to think. If you wish to
employ non-rational means (like gut feel and intuition)
in order to arrive at a conclusion or a decision, no
mental model is needed. But, if you want to think, you
can't do so without a mental model.
A chapter of the book written by educator Frank
Draper, "Teaching by Wandering Around: Learning
About the World Naturally," is available in the latest
issue of the Creative Learning Exchange's
|Not Your Typical Management Conference!
Sharing · Cross-Sectoral Perspectives · Heart, Head,
and Body Engaged
At the 20th annual Pegasus
Conference, you'll learn new
skills and tools for improving your results through
systems thinking and related disciplines. But you
won't just be bombarded with new ideas with no time
to aborb them.
You'll enjoy sessions that offer
a deep dive and extended time between workshops
reflection and sharing. Skilled facilitators will help
build a robust container for learning that will appeal to
all of your senses and different learning styles.
You will leave this conference energized and
equipped to create lasting value for your organization
We have extended the deadline for
registering at the current discounted rate.
before March 31 to save $700 off the full
conference rate. Even lower rates are available for
teams of four or more. Call 1-781-398-9700 for more
|Taking Stock of Unemployment
by David Packer
language of system structure, there are two basic
ideas: stocks and flows. Flows are like water in a
pipe, measured in units per time intervals, like gallons
per minute. Stocks are where the flows go and from
whence they come, like bathtubs. Stocks are
accumulations of things, with inflows and outflows.
The only way to change stocks--to fill them or drain
them--is by changing flows in or out.
of the difficulty most people have seeing how stocks
will behave given variations of inflows and outflows,
stocks provide the biggest challenges in
comprehending the behavior of our social and
physical systems. They are hard to change, because
they are often so large relative to the size of the flows.
Think how long it takes to fully fill your bathtub, a
swimming pool, an oil tanker. Think how long it takes
for the CO2 in the atmosphere to drain away, even if
the input is cut to nothing.
And think about the
bathtub full of the unemployed in the U.S., which
haunts us now. This is a very large stock of millions of
people, about 10 percent of the workforce. Each
month, a substantial inflow of new people join the
stock, as individuals lose their jobs or come of
working age; another substantial outflow of people get
jobs, give up their job searches, compromise, die,
and the like. As long as these flows are about the
same, the stock of the unemployed remains
unchanged, which it has for a while. Without going into
numbers (which you can do as an exercise), it is clear
that bringing down the stock, even assuming robust
job creation, will take more than a handful of years.
Leading the Learning Revolution
A live webinar
for leaders at all levels
striving to create a new paradigm for organizational
Tuesday, April 13
2:00 - 3:30 PM
We are in the midst of a shift as
significant as the one that brought us from the
Agricultural Age into the Industrial Revolution. The
widespread failure of institutions around the globe
designed for high performance by 19th-century
production standards reminds us that we have
embarked on a new era in learning and management
practice. Quick-fix solutions will never address the
fundamental source of these ills.
Join organizational learning and systems
thinking thought leader Daniel H. Kim to learn how to
make clear choices about purpose
and core values at the root level in order to reconceive
your organization to face tomorrow's challenges.
Learn more and register...
Adapt and Perform:
What Boeing Can Teach You About Change in
organizations are like living organisms continuously
responding in unpredictable ways to changing
conditions. To be successful in such complex,
adaptive systems, leaders must understand how the
underlying structure of their work system compels the
system to act in certain ways--intended and
unintended. In this recorded session, Dennis
O'Donoghue explains how Boeing's Flight Validation
and Test Organization has employed system
dynamics tools and the principles of living systems to
effect profound, rapid change.
more and order...
See other Pegasus webinars
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"The harder you fight to hold on to
specific assumptions, the more likely there's gold in
letting go of them."
--John Seely Brown