Rapid Review: Thinking in Systems — A Primer (2008)

Mr Henriquez
2 min readOct 22, 2023

Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella H. Meadows is a great introduction to Systems Thinking. Systems Thinking is a school of thought originating in the field of mathematics and is a framework in which many aspects of life are viewed as a system with interconnected and interacting parts (sometimes referred to as variables).

Meadows explains, by starting from the absolute roots, what a ‘system’ is, where we can find them, and how they influence the world. She points out what complex systems are and what dynamic systems are (but does not draw any links between them, so she doesn’t mention complex dynamic systems) while repeatedly mentioning the non-linearity of many aspects of life.

Photo by Adam Valstar on Unsplash

After giving a clear introduction to systems and systems thinking, she juxtaposes systems and behaviours in her contemporary world. She analyses the obvious ones (computers, the human body) but then moves on to less obvious ideas of systems (society, biology, and many more). After that, she focuses on behaviour and how human behaviour influenced already existing systems in the past. In the final part of the book, readers are given advice on how systems can be corrected, but this is not done after posing the question of whether (the) system(s) should be influenced to begin with.

I take home from the book that people have the tendency to immediately start correcting things (systems). As an infantile systems thinker (I would never compare myself to the late Meadows), I, too, have the tendency to overcorrect, even though I know that sometimes the best thing to do is let the system run its course and observe what happens. My next juxtaposition will be about systems thinking in education.

The biggest challenge is recognising the infinite number of systems around us. If you’re ready to start thinking in systems, this book is your starting point.

Get your copy of Thinking In Systems: A Primer from Amazon.com (affiliate): https://amzn.to/3s1f6wb

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Mr Henriquez

Also known as Mr Henriquez | English teacher who writes about his views on language learning, applied linguistics, and technology. | MA in Applied Linguistics