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An Introduction to General Systems Thinking (Silver Anniversary Edition)

Gerald M. Weinberg · 8 HN comments
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For more than twenty-five years, An Introduction to General Systems Thinking has been hailed as an innovative introduction to systems theory, with applications in computer science and beyond. Used in university courses and professional seminars all over the world, the text has proven its ability to open minds and sharpen thinking. Originally published in 1975 and reprinted more than twenty times over a quarter century -- and now available for the first time from Dorset House Publishing -- the text uses clear writing and basic algebraic principles to explore new approaches to projects, products, organizations, and virtually any kind of system. Scientists, engineers, organization leaders, managers, doctors, students, and thinkers of all disciplines can use this book to dispel the mental fog that clouds problem-solving. As author Gerald M. Weinberg writes in the new preface to the Silver Anniversary Edition, "I haven’t changed my conviction that most people don’t think nearly as well as they could had they been taught some principles of thinking.” Now an award-winning author of nearly forty books spanning the entire software development life cycle, Weinberg had already acquired extensive experience as a programmer, manager, university professor, and consultant when this book was originally published. With helpful illustrations, numerous end-of-chapter exercises, and an appendix on a mathematical notation used in problem-solving, An Introduction to General Systems Thinking may be your most powerful tool in working with problems, systems, and solutions.
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I recently read "An Introduction to General Systems Thinking" by Gerald M. Weinberg [0], which may or may not be in the same vain. These concepts are hard to wrap my mind around but they are appealing. I'll try your recommendation too, thanks!


I really like the perspective provided by the General systems thinking [0]:

There are problems with little randomness and number of moving parts: these problems are either easy to reason about, or easy to solve by analytical means (think of systems that can be reduced to few equations).

Then, there are problems with either/both: large number of elements and high degree of randomness. These problems can be dealt with statistics.

Then there is a ball of mud between - medium number of elements/randomness. The number of interactions is too high to be able to reason about them effectively, yet too little to derive solution by statistical means.

Most of the software, especially poorly written one falls in this realm- the more interactions between elements, the harder to reason about. Mastering algorithmic wizardry just moves you slightly right on this plot- being able to decrease the number of interactions makes the system easier to reason about [1]



The answer below assumes the following:

- You are talking about the application of general systems theory.

- You would like to learn to apply 'systems thinking' principals and analysis in many domains or to new problems

- You would like to learn to model systems

- It is also important to note in many domains there are specific branches of systems theory that may be more applicable.

- You could spend an entire lifetime learning in this field as many have done.

Types of systems:

Systems can be broken down by multiple dimensions:

- Complex

- simple

- unitary

- pluralist

- coercive

Systems thinking approaches:

- Hard systems thinking

- Systems dynamics

- Cybernetics

- Complexity Theory

- Soft Systems

- Emancipatory systems thinking

- Postmodern systems thinking

Learning More about Systems Thinking:

- A great website is the systems thinker, that covers quite a bit of topics. The articles are actually archives of a newsletter called "The systems thinker"

- To get an overview of various approaches to systems thinking from an organizational perspective:

Systems Thinking: Creative Holism for Managers by Michael C. Jackson.

- For general systems theory: An Introduction to General Systems Thinking by Gerald M. Weinberg

- For systems thinking and the learning organization:

The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization by Peter Senge

- There is a great course that covers soft systems methodology, specifically to solve social problems:

- Habits of a systems thinker:

- Systems thinking resources:

* Update added additional resources.

Thanks for recommending stuff no one else did.
+1 for The Fifth Discipline, and I also recommend The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook.
The box-and-arrows paradigm for systems, built in the 50s and enjoying popularity briefly in the 80s, is overrated, and has been outmoded by the likes of complexity theory. This is due to the fact that box-and-arrows systems like those made by Club of Rome to predict civilizational collapse carry strong assumptions as to the nature and structure of underlying variables and as such become very brittle as the size of the system scales. The norm is not the closed-loop circuit models that initially inspired systems thinking, but open-loop energetic models where any structural element is more like a rarified pattern than an ontological atom.

The result is a discipline that has transformed into managing uncertain outcomes in large heterogeneous models, i.e. complexity theory, rather than reducing everything to balls-and-sticks. Meadows was famous for devising "12 basic places to intervene in a system", nowadays the focus is on hedging bets adequately such that interventions don't catastrophically fuck up.

That said, some of the basic tooling is still flexible enough for basic business problems and some of the old gems are able to explain important concepts found in other fields without getting bogged down in the math. is my favourite, it's not about retirement, it's about using systems thinking to devise a robust lifestyle. will make a good complement to Meadows and should give you a calculus to rigorously think of systems with. for its explanation on entropy, I mean requisite diversity, which will you give you an approximate mental quantity of how "powerful" any given system is. and I haven't read either of these, but Herb Simon is extremely influential and has great thoughts on the notion of system hierarchies (nearly-decomposable systems is a great concept for design). The second book is about the properties of modular systems, which will help grok the reasoning behind a lot of refactoring techniques.

Good luck.

Seconding the recommendation of Herbert Simon, especially Sciences of the Artificial.
Very interesting. Can I ask from which background you came to be interested in systems (e.g. biology or electrical engineering)?
Philosophy and Design, I wanted to understand the world in the most general way possible to be flexible enough to adopt to any problem. I also like thinking clearly and being right
"complexity theory" is very important!


my favorite: New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) website!

* About Complex Systems : "Concept Map"

* Learn:

* "Dynamics of Complex Systems" - Full PDF:

* NECSI Seminar Video Library:

* Research:

Came here to post Dynamics of Complex Systems. Just the information on renormalization groups and multi-scale behavior makes it worth the time. And it's Free!
As much as I love NECSI and Santa Fe Complexity Institute, the way the science is taught is a bit of a grab bag. Way too much emphasis on models that aren't widely applicable to engineering problems, like cellular automata.

Nassim Taleb's collaborations with NESCI are worth their weight, though, and W Brian Arthur out of SFI produces works that I consider actionable for CTOs to get a conceptual handle on their craft. UoM's Scott E Paige is also a good resource on Complex Adaptive Systems in a way that is more unified.

Mar 21, 2017 · danek on Why Complexity is Different
This gives a great perspective on complexity. Reminds me a lot of the book An Introduction to General Systems Thinking by Jerry Weinberg.
I love that book. Have you read It's similar, but a bit more rigorous.
Some of my personal favorite resources on this topic:

I really enjoyed these books, but I am not super well-read in this area, so there may be better ones out there. You could try searching for "systems theory" and see what other resources are out there.

Systems theory is a very broad topic, so you'll find it attached to many specific disciplines, but the general idea is that you can take a bunch of simple things, hook them together, and produce a "being" that has totally weird behavior in aggregate.

First, never confuse schooling with education

Second learn stuff thats in this book:

Third,The general idea of good education is to prepare you for the future rather than learning about the past

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