System Thinking - Fundamental Readings

October 22, 2020

Dave - as dicussed, here is a short list of System Thinking items in preparation for next week's meeting.I have made it a web page so I can easily update without having to re-send emails.

1) My recent featured talk for PTC Liveworx. I have found that this material strongly resonates with Operations Leaders, as they can see what their problem is - missing feedback loops - and how technology can play a major part in correcting this. In other words, this strikes the right balance of Clay Christensen's "Job to Be Done" theory - we may be selling technology, butthe customer is investing in improved Observation - Orientation ... etc.

- the video (25 minutes):

- the slides for this presentation: slides


2) The two key System Thinking books are Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline and Donella Meadows' Thinking in Systems: A Primer. I'd like to share a key concept from her book - the 12 leverage points to intervene in a system. This is not only a great practical list, but has deep roots in Control Theory and System Dynamics.

They are listed in reverse order of impact (12 lowest, 1 highest) as given by Meadows. However, I have found that 6, 8-10 are the best places to start in order to transform the system.

  • 12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards)
  • 11. The size of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows
  • 10. Structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport network, population age structures)
  • 9. Length of delays, relative to the rate of system changes
  • 8. Strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the effect they are trying to correct against
  • 7. Gain around driving positive feedback loops
  • 6. Structure of information flow (who does and does not have access to what kinds of information)
  • 5. Rules of the system (such as incentives, punishment, constraints)
  • 4. Power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure
  • 3. Goal of the system
  • 2. Mindset or paradigm that the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises from
  • 1. Power to transform paradigms


3. Simulation and Digital Twins

- this area has tremendous potential, and good to see Microsoft is involved

BTW - Jay Forrester, the godfather of System Dynamics and Supply Chain also developed the first digital twin - in fact, he invented a practical form of magnetic core memory in order to have a suitably powerful computer for the Navy's Flight Simulator project (Project Whirlwind) - Microsoft's Flight Simulator is a direct descendant.


4) System Archetypes - this is a very useful diagnostic list of systemic problems and their symptoms. This should be re-examined in the light of Indusry 4.0:



5. If I were to list the best blog on System Thinking (until I build mine!) - it would be this one


6) Gartner Magic Quadrant on IIoT Platforms (July 2020)


7) workforce of the future - we need to connect with Paul Osterman