Systems Thinking – Suggested Reading about “Knowledge Workers”
We’ve been discussing systems and systems thinking, and a number of you have requested recommendations of some books. So first of all for those of you who may be new to this video series, systems are a collection of elements that interoperate in a cause and effect relationship. The dynamic of a system ends up producing similar results and continuous outcome especially in steady state. It’s called the aim of the system. If you want to think about systems, you think about them as the building blocks, feedback, and time delays.
If you’re interested in doing a deeper dive into systems, I’m going to recommend three authors for you. The first one was really my first encounter with systems thinking. That’s the work of W. Edwards Deming’s book, Deming: Sample Design in Business Research. At a conference in Japan in 1950, Deming took the flow diagram for production that was laid out like most flow diagrams of the time, a process ending with products going into the marketplace, and he drew a feedback loop from the marketplace back into the company. That feedback loop allowed learning, continuous improvement, and the increased quality of products. It was the first systems drawing produced from a process drawing that I am personally aware of. Deming is the starting point for our systems thinking.
Deming has written a number of books, but rather than one of Deming’s books I’d recommend one by Mary Walton. It’s called the Deming Management Method. It gives you a view both of Deming the human being as well as Deming’s principles of management in his view of systems.
Deming did his work in the 50’s and there was a group that was formed in the 60’s at MIT that started to discipline the field of systems dynamic that was lead by Jay Forrester. He and his students and collaborators were the primary drivers of the evolution of our modern view of systems. I found that one of his students moved out of his MIT group and became a professor at Dartmouth. Her name is Donella Meadows. She wrote a really terrific book called Thinking in Systems. It’s a really good way of getting to understand the dynamics of systems especially of complex systems.
The third author I would recommend is Peter Senge, probably the most famous of the systems writers. In his book The Fifth Discipline, he talks about the five disciplines of a learning organization, with systems thinking being the most important, if you will, the glue, of a learning organization. If you either read Senge or have read Senge, be sure not to overlook The Fifth Discipline: Fieldbook. It accompanies Senge’s work and it gives you practical exercises to help move towards a learning organization. It’s a nice compliment to the theory of the textbook, “The Fifth Discipline” itself.
If you read these three books, your understanding of systems will increase immensely and you will be able to understand and see systems that work.
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