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Books on Systems Thinking


Systems Thinking Made Simple

Systems Thinking Made Simple: A new Hope for Solving Wicked Problems is a well written wonderfully illustrated book on Systems Thinking, but it also includes many other related topics like Mind Mapping, Scaling and a light overview of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS).

The book uses a unique four-part decomposition analysis rule model called DSRP:

  1. Distinction Rule - how to distinguish things in systems
  2. Systems Rule - how to separate or join items in systems
  3. Relationship Rule - how to find relationships between items in a system
  4. Perspectives Rule - how to see different points-of-view when analyzing systems

I think the decomposition approach is sound but I have not used it extensively.

My only disappointment is that they only spend a few pages on Causal Loop Diagrams.

Thinking in Systems

Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows.

This is one of the key books by Systems Thinking pioneer Donnela Meadows. The text is well written and she has good examples.

Systems Thinking for Social Change

Systems Thinking for Social Change by David Peter Stroh, 2015 by Chelsea Green Publishing

I got this book specifically for my volunteer work doing STEM curriculum development for my volunteer work. It has many good examples for the application of Systems Thinking to promote social responsibility.

The bylines on the book are:

  1. A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems
  2. Avoiding Unintended Consequences and
  3. Achieving Lasting Results

The Fifth Discipline

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge

This is one of the original books that took a formal approach to applying Systems Thinking to the problems of businesses. It was written in 1990 before "Systems Thinking" was popular. Although Senge covers many topics in this book and does not call the concepts "Systems Thinking" - he clearly gets the fact that the structure of systems influences their behavior. He also has many examples of causal loop diagrams but he calls them "Systems Diagrams".

I would not use this book as my first book on Systems Thinking. I think of it more as a historical reference written by the person that made Systems Thinking popular in business.

Introduction to the Theory of Complex Systems

Introduction to the Theory of Complex Systems by Stefan Thurner, Rudolf Hanel and Peter Klimek. Published in 2018 by Oxford University Press.

This book was given to me by my Systems Thinking mentor, Arun Batchu in December of 2019. It is designed as a two-semester graduate-level textbook for students that have had two+ years of Calculus. Although I don't understand all the math, this book shows that Systems Thinking is a entry ramp in the the world of complex adaptive systems where we can create simulations of the world and test our hypothesis of how structural changes can impact behavior.

There are two topics in this book that I don't see covered in other books.

  1. Scale Laws - how as systems grow is size, the behavior changes
  2. Evolutionary Processes - how systems continually adapt to fit their changing environments

The Systems Thinker Series

Six book series by Albert Ruthorford

Book 1: The Systems Thinker: Essential Thinking Skills For Solving Problems, Managing Chaos, and Creating Lasting Solutions in a Complex World
Book 2: The Systems Thinker - Analytical Skills: Level Up Your Decision Making, Problem Solving, and Deduction Skills. Notice The Details Others Miss
Book 3: The Systems Thinker - Mental Models: Take Control Over Your Thought Patterns. Learn Advanced Decision-Making and Problem-Solving Skills.
Book 4: The Elements of Thinking in Systems: Use Systems Archetypes to Understand, Manage, and Fix Complex Problems and Make Smarter Decisions
Book 5: The Systems Thinker – Dynamic Systems: Make Better Decisions and Find Lasting Solutions Using Scientific Analysis
Book 6: Tools of Systems Thinkers: Learn Advanced Deduction, Decision-Making, and Problem-Solving Skills with Mental Models and System Maps

The Elements of Thinking in Systems focuses on the nine fundamental system archetypes; our mental models related to them and the step-by-step implication methods to fix them. Learn to use systems archetypes to solve your problems at work, in your business, in your relationship, and social connections.

Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity

[Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity: A Platform for Designing Business Architecture] - Jamshid Gharajedaghi - Morgan Kauffman

Systems Thinking by Marcus P. Dawson

Systems Thinking for Business

The Systems Thinker by Albert Rutherford

Buddhist and Taoist Systems Thinking

The Natural Path to Sustainable Transformation by Josep M. Coll

Systems Thinking for Business

Capitalize on Structures Hidden in Plain Sight by Rich Jolly

The Systems Thinking Playbook

Exercises to stretch and build learn and system thinking capabilities. by Linda Booth Sweeney and Dennis Meadows

Critical Systems THinking and the Management of Complexity

by Michael C Jackson Wiley Press

Systems Thinking Basics

From Concepts to Casual Loops by Virgina Anderson and Laura Johnson

Business Dynamics: System Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World

Learn Systems Thinking

Use problem solving skills, understand the theory of strategic planning, and create solutions to make smart decisions.

by Wallace Wright

Think in Systems: The Art of Strategic Planning, High Efficiency, Problem-Solving and Lasting Results

by Zoe McKey

The Systems Bible

A Beginner's Guide to Systems Large and Small Being the third edition of systematics by John Gall, originally published in 2002 Walker Minnesota

A Introduction to General Systems Thinking

by Gerald M. Weinberg

The Art of Systems Thinking

by Joseph O'Connor and Ian McDermott

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

A Managers' Guide to Applying Systems Thinking by Dennis Sherwood

Systems Thinking, Systems Practice

Systems Thinking, Systems Practice: Includes a 30-Year Retrospective by Peter Checkland

Systems Thinking: Coping with 21st Century Problems

Brian Sauser and John Boardman

Systems Thinking: Creative Holism for Managers

by Mike Jackson

Online Resources

Systems and Us

Systems and Us

System and Us Quiz

Causal Loop Quiz

System Thinking Course

The University of Florida St. Leo University GLO 410: Systems Thinking


MIT Management Executive Education: Understanding and Solving Complex Business Problems

MIT Management Executive Education: Understanding and Solving Complex Business Problems

  1. Price: $4,100
  2. Length: 2 8-hour days

This complex problem solving course introduces participants to MIT's unique, powerful, and integrative system dynamics approach to assess problems that will not go away and to produce the results they want. Through exercises and simulation models participants experience the long-term side effects and impacts of decisions and understand the ways in which performance is tied to structures and policies.

Systems thinking was devised to improve people's ability to manage organizations comprehensively in a volatile global environment. It offers managers a framework for understanding complex situations and the dynamics those situations produce. Systems thinking is a response to the rapid changes in technology, population, and economic activity that are transforming the world, and as a way to deal with the ever-increasing complexity of today's business.

Senior managers can use the system dynamics method to design policies that lead their organizations to high performance. The program is intended to give participants the tools and confidence to manage organizations with full understanding and solid strategy.

Participants will experience the Beer Game, a table game, developed by Jay Forrester. Played with pen, paper, printed plastic tablecloths, and poker chips, it simulates the supply chain of the beer industry. In so doing, it illuminates aspects of system dynamics, a signature mode of MIT thought: it illustrates the nonlinear complexities of supply chains and the way individuals are circumscribed by the systems in which they act.

You will receive a certificate of course completion at the conclusion of this course. You may also be interested in our Executive Certificates which are designed around a central themed track and consist of several courses. Learn more.


Introduction to System Dynamics: Overview - MIT 15.871 Introduction to System Dynamics, Fall 2013

MIT Business Dynamics Promo Playlist - These videos are mostly ads for why system thinking is relevant in some businesses. on manufacturing, supply chain and services. - not much topics on information systems. They do talk about feedback, stocks and flows.

Forrester on Mental Models - 14 minute video from 2013 - Excerpt from the Fireside Chat with Jay W. Forrester. Interviewed by John Sterman. At the 29th International Conference of the System Dynamics Society. Washington, DC July 27, 2011