Thinking in Systems - Deepstash
Thinking in Systems


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Thinking in Systems

by Donella Meadows

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What Is A System?

A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something . These systems must be comprised of three things:

  • Elements
  • Interconnections
  • Function/purpose


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Examples Of A System

  1. Elements of your digestive system include teeth, enzymes, stomach, & intestines. The function of this system is to break down food into its basic nutrients & transfer it into the bloodstream while discarding the waste.
  2. A football team is a system with elements such as players, coach, field, & ball. Its interconnections are the rules of the game, the coach's strategy, the players' communications, & the laws of physics that govern the motions of ball & players. Its purpose is to win, have fun, make money, get exercise or all of the above.


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How To Spot A System

  1. Can you identify parts?
  2. Do the parts affect each other?
  3. Do the parts together produce an effect that is different from the effect of each part on its own?
  4. Does the effect, the behavior over time, persist in a variety of circumstances?


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Stocks & Flows

A stock is the foundation of any system. Stocks are the events of the system that you can see, feel, count, or measure at any given time. Stocks change over time due to the actions of a flow. Flows are filling & draining, bidirectional outcome cycles. A stock, then, is the present memory of the history of changing flows within the system.


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Systems thinkers use graphs of system behavior to understand trends over time, rather than focusing attention on individual events. We also use behavior-over-time graphs to learn whether the system is approaching a goal or limit, and if so, how quickly. The variable on the graph is often a stock or a flow.


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A stock takes time to change, because a flow takes time to flow


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