Intro to Systems Thinking


Published on

Slides for "Intro to Systems Thinking" workshop. Session details and resources available here:

Published in: Education, Technology, Business

Intro to Systems Thinking

  1. 1. Introduction to Systems Thinking Patrick Woessner Lausanne Laptop Institute 2012
  2. 2. The Dilbert System
  3. 3. Knowledge and Experience 0 5 10I Recognize Dilbert I Have Heard of Jay Forrester Systems Thinking Sends Me Flowers On My Birthday
  4. 4. The World’s Biggest Problems • Armed Conflict • Spread of Infectious Disease • Growing Population • Availability of Energy • International Terrorism • The Economy • Climate Change • Poverty, Hunger, Lack of WaterDate Source: Eurobarometer survey of the EU, 2011Image Source: 123RF
  5. 5. Why Do These Problems Persist?
  6. 6. Schools Have Not Prepared Students to Solve Them
  7. 7. Learning to solve this… A car averages 27 miles per gallon. If gas costs $4.04 per gallon, which of the following is closest to how much the gas would cost for this car to travel 2,727 typical miles? A. $44.44 B. $109.08 C. $118.80 D. $408.04 E. $444.40Question Source: ACT PrepImage Source: MarketMixup
  8. 8. won’t teach you to solve this. The United States consumers more than 20% (7 billion barrels) of the world’s oil supply annually yet only has 2% of the world’s proven oil reserves. What factors will determine when we reach “peak oil”—the point in time when the maximum rate of petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of oil production is expected to enter terminal decline?Image Source: OnlineBikeMania
  9. 9. Systems Thinking Traditional analysis focuses on the individual pieces of what is being studied. Systems thinking focuses on how the things being studied interact with the other constituents of the system. Instead of isolating smaller and smaller parts of the system being studied, systems thinking works by expanding its view to consider larger and larger numbers of interactions as an issue is being studied.Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons, by erwlas
  10. 10. Problem Solving: Pest ControlProblem: Insect “A” is damaging cropsTraditional Analysis Approach: Spray pesticide to kill the insectsPesticide Application Insect “A” Declines Crops Flourish OVER TIME… Insect “A” Population Insect “B” PopulationInsect “B” Population Explodes Crops Damaged Even More
  11. 11. What is a System?A set of elements or parts that is coherently organized andinterconnected in a pattern or structure that produces acharacteristic set of behaviors, often classified as its “function” or“purpose.” (Donella Meadows)
  12. 12. Components of a System Inter-Elements Function connections
  13. 13. Elements • Typically the most obvious part of a dynamic system • Changing elements often has very little effect on the system ElementsImage Source: Armchair GM
  14. 14. Interconnections • Often involve the flow of information • Changing relationships usually changes system behavior Inter- connectionsImage Source: Creative Commons by ~IconTexto
  15. 15. Function • Typically the least obvious part of a dynamic system • A change in purpose changes a system profoundly FunctionImage Source: Antique Radios
  16. 16. Systems: Key Points• A system is more than the sum of its parts.• Many of the interconnections in systems operate through the flow of information.• The least obvious part of the system, its function or purpose, is often the most crucial determinate of the system’s behavior.• System structure is the source of system behavior. System behavior reveals itself as a series of events over time.
  17. 17. A System Case Study
  18. 18. What is Thinking? “Thinking consists of two activities: constructing mental models and then simulating them in order to draw conclusions and make decisions.” – Barry Richmond Understanding the concept of a tree requires more information than is available through sensory experience alone. It’s built on past experiences and knowledge.Source: Jeremy Merritt
  19. 19. Mental ModelsImage Source: Flickr Creative Commons, by Dave Hosford
  20. 20. Mental ModelsImage Source: Sports in Wisconsin
  21. 21. Mental ModelsImage Source: The Baby Proofing Blog
  22. 22. Changing Thinking Fold your arms the way you would if you were bored, with one falling over the other. Uncross your arms and fold them again, the other way, with the other arm on top.Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons by CJ Berry
  23. 23. Thinking in Systems “The problems we have created in the world today will not be solved by the level of thinking that created them.” --Albert EinsteinImage Source: Flickr Creative Commons, by mansionwb
  24. 24. Image Source: Waters Foundation
  25. 25. Image Source: Waters Foundation
  26. 26. Image Source: Waters Foundation
  27. 27. Image Source: Waters Foundation
  28. 28. Image Source: Waters Foundation
  29. 29. Image Source: Waters Foundation
  30. 30. Image Source: Waters Foundation
  31. 31. Image Source: Waters Foundation
  32. 32. Image Source: Waters Foundation
  33. 33. Image Source: Waters Foundation
  34. 34. Image Source: Waters Foundation
  35. 35. Image Source: Waters Foundation
  36. 36. Image Source: Waters Foundation
  37. 37. Habits Rubric for Students
  38. 38. Modeling Systems “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” --George Box (Emeritus Professor of Statistics, University of Wisconsin-Madison)Image Source: Wikipedia
  39. 39. Modeling SystemsWe are limited in our capacity to form and reform mentalmodels. Systems modeling allows us to move from “what” to“what if” and make our thinking visibleThe basic building blocks of dynamic models arestocks, flows, and loops
  40. 40. Stocks• Stocks are the foundation of any system and are the elements that you can see, feel, count, or measure• Stocks do not have to be physical
  41. 41. Flows• Stocks change over time through the actions of a flow• A stock is the present memory of the changing flows within the system
  42. 42. Loops• A feedback loop is formed when changes in a stock affect the flows into or out of that same stock• Balancing feedback loops are stability seeking and try to keep a stock at a certain level or within a certain range• Reinforcing feedback loops occur when a system element has the ability to reproduce itself or grow at a constant fraction of itself
  43. 43. Problem Solving: Pest Control Insect “A” Population Insect “B” Population
  44. 44. “Seek and Destroy” ModelIs this system really that simple?
  45. 45. Systems Thinking Model
  46. 46. Modeling Influenza
  47. 47. Exploring Models• Forio NetSim• MIT Sloan• ISEE STELLA Models Complete List of Models and Simulations
  48. 48. Getting Started• Partner: Systems Thinking is hard to master alone• Read: Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows• Identify: Articulate the systems in your curriculum• Create: Draw a simple stock-flow-loop diagram• Simulate: Explore a systems model using the Habits of Systems Thinkers
  49. 49. Contact Information• Presentation Resources:• Email:• Twitter:• Blog:• Skype: pwoessner• Office: 314-995-7375