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Systems Thinking and Sustainability [Business Models
Posted on April 30, 2014 @ 09:06:00 AM by Paul Meagher

The ability to engage in Systems Thinking is probably a good skill for an entrepreneurs and investors to have.

Lately, I've been trying to figure out how to incorporate Systems Thinking into my own skillset. One way is through taking my Permaculture Course which could be called Systems Thinking for Farmers and Gardeners. The goal of systems thinking is generally to create sustainable systems so any literature that deals with creating sustainable systems could exemplify systems thinking.

In an ideal world, the buildings and products claimed to be manufactured sustainably or using sustainable practices, would in fact incorporate enough systems thinking to earn such accolades. Often such claims are not real or substantiated because the designer did not take into account enough of the parts and their interrelationships. They fall short by not incoporating enough systems thinking into their design. They might have solved the reductive problem, but not the wholistic problem.

Systems Thinking is useful for designing sustainable systems, but is it useful for designing profitable systems? That is the million dollar question.

A good resource to use to get started with systems thinking is a book by Donella Meadors called Thinking in Systems: A Primer (2008) Chelsea Green Publishing.

Donella Meadows book was published posthumously based on a widely circulated but unpublished manuscript. She died in 2001 but left us with 4 fascinating Youtube videos that are worth watching. Here is the first:

One of Donella's best pedagogical devices was the stock and flow diagram she came up with to represent a systems model. I'd recommend you become familiar with it and how to use it if you want to use systems thinking in your own practice.

This prototypical version of the stock and flow diagram was lifted from a useful article by Peter Morville discussing systems thinking in the context of information architecture.

I hope to return to the topic of systems thinking in future blogs as I read more of Donella's book and think more about the concept of sustainability from a systems point of view.

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