The Systems Thinking – a selection of gems to add to your reading list

The Systems Thinking – a selection of gems to add to your reading list

The Grammar of Systems: From Order to Chaos & Back by Patrick Hoverstadt

I have looked forward to recommending this month’s book. When I taught systems thinking at the university some ten years ago, I used Patrick’s The Fractal Organization: Creating sustainable organizations with the Viable System Model as the textbook. And when I edited my Beyond Alignment: Applying Systems Thinking in Architecting Enterprises, I was very happy that Patrick contributed a chapter. So, I was pleased when Patrick told me about his new book earlier this year.

Part One illustrates the nine thinking patterns involved in thinking like a systems thinker, which collectively form the core of Systems Thinking. Each pattern is contrasted with conventional thinking and shows the power of thinking differently, alongside practical ways to develop these patterns in yourself and your organisation. If you want a different way to be able to think about the world, the thought patterns in this book will give you that. I would actually go as far as to argue that when you really “get” Systems Thinking, it changes the way you understand the world fundamentally and, at least in my own case, permanently.

Part Two describes 33 Systems Laws and Principles on which Systems Thinking as a discipline was founded. These Systems laws show how both order and chaos are created in systems and the dynamic between them. The Laws and Principles provide the insight on how, when and why systems remain stable and change at the same time, and what happens when they don’t, instead collapsing into new forms or disintegrating. These powerful insights are vital for anyone designing a change or transformation. The Law of Requisite Variety, Conant-Ashby Theorem, Viability Principle, and all the other laws and principles laying the foundation of Systems Thinking are there, and explained in simple (well, as simple as can be) terms.

The book is a tour de force. It is very comprehensive, yet extremely practical, usable and useful, just as Systems Thinking itself is.

Traditionally, our book of the month comes as a single. However, as we consider systems thinking a crucial skill for any architect to master, we have prepared a few other books below that we can highly recommend to a learner of any level, even a beginner.

The Fractal Organization: Creating sustainable organizations with the Viable System Model by Patrick Hoverstadt

This is yet another classic by Patrick Hoverstadt that we can’t recommend enough. It is his earlier work and it is centered around the Viable System Model developed by Stafford Beer and how it can be used to diagnose and understand a wide range of common organizational problems. A key theme is how the underlying systemic patterns can generate and sustain those organizational issues and the crucial importance of understanding the inherent complexity of many of the coordination functions in an organization.

Thinking In Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows

This book covers the most basic principles of systems thinking and modelling in a language accessible by everyone, thus it is a great introduction book. The book starts at the very low level, helping to build a foundation for understanding more complex concepts. The best part of it is that the author provides plenty of example, even drawing on “patterns” (archetypes) of systems in the “real world”, like politics, economy or sociology and views familiar scenarios through systems thinking lense. 

The Systems Thinking Playbook by Linda Booth Sweeney and Dennis Meadows

One of the challenging aspects of systems thinking is that it is comprised of many inter-related concepts, which could be hard to grasp. The exercises illustrate the systems thinking concepts “experientially” as well as highlight our own habits of mind. Each of the exercises is supplied with context and explanatory comments highlighting which concept of systems thinking a particular exercise illustrate and what are the typical outcomes. It is a novel way of looking at and thinking of complex ideas and can be a great tool to learn to be aware of our biases and perception limitations as well as other people’s. 

If you want to check our previous Book of the Month selection, you can find it here:

Book of the Month – How to Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert

Book of the Month – Cloud Strategy: a Decision-Based Approach to Successful Cloud Migration by Gregor Hohpe