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Teaching Systems Thinking Systematically

Hi! Is there a link to your slides, or are you asking for feedback on the overall concept and bullets?

Hi Scott, here is a link to the Google Slides version of @Tony’s presentation:
Systems Thinking - For Activity-based Systems - you can add your comments on any of the slides with a Google account.

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Thanks for the “catch” Daniel


Some how the arrow heads from the presentation’s interface lines have disappeared. Can you think of how I can get them back?


Yes, indeed, I can see that Google Slides didn’t manage to convert exactly all of the elements , as apparently those were not detected as connectors/arrows. The only way would be manual editing, that will take some time. I assume we will do that anyway, but possibly not today/tomorrow. As a quick backup solution here is the PDF version of the originally uploaded presentation that can be commented as well.
As soon as I have some free time (tomorrow) will try to add the arrows back manually, possibly adding some links as well between the slides.

how would information flow in a self-organizing, self-directed system?

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Thanks for the question! Information in a self-organizing system flows horizontally vs vertically. That is there is a lot of peer-to -peer interaction vs info flowing upwards/downwards to/from a centralized coordinating entity. While info in my presentation flows horizontally, it shows just a small amount of peer-to-peer interaction. It’s purpose is to be just-barely complex enough to present the other Systems Thinking concepts that are in it.

The below example slide presents a more real world peer-to-peer (interaction heavy)
self-organizing system (Sorry but I can not get arrow heads to show.)

My presentation may need to be edited to better illustrate self-organizing system

Below, in contrast to a self-organizing system, is a rough diagram of the Viable Systems Model, which has vertical info flows from the peer-to-peer operations to/from management (central coordination)

I believe they can incorporate any edits/comments you may have.



Klaus’s question brings up an important concept. That is that some organizational systems are peer-to-peer (i.e., Agile), while others are still top down controlled. I think that this needs to be reflected in the presentation.


@Tony based on my experience most of the organizations, even the ones dubbing themselves “Agile” are top-down controlled. There are many orgs where various Agile practices were introduced (or better: adopted), and “horizontal” flows are more common (again “Agile” could be just a fancy word to maintain a facade), it tends to be like that only within the development/engineering team, and not the entire organization (e.g. other departments or business units continue to be centralised).

I think, that not every relevant concept can be, or should be presented with a single fictive 1-person biz case, hence I was suggesting to develop multiple presentations with case studies (possibly inter-connected) to articulate various aspects of the (different) systems.


Your right. It is not possible to introduce the Viable Systems Model or self-organizing concepts with a single-person case study.

Actually I was thinking more of addendums, but you have a better idea about multiple presentations.


would it make sense to use the Donella Meadows model “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System” to show both vertical (stage specific) and horizontal (within stage specific) organizing principles. Meadows refers to self-organization as step 4 in her model:

4: Self-Organization

Self-organization is the ability of a system to change itself, and possibly reinvent itself. This leads to impressive resilience, as the system can adapt to changing circumstances. It’s also more powerful than any leverage point we’ve discussed so far, because a self-organizing system can improve its rules, information flow, and feedback loops.

As previously explained, vastly complex self-organization can result from a few simple rules:

  • Biological evolution results from 1) the encoding of life in DNA, 2) the ability to generate mutations in DNA, and 3) the pressure of natural selection to select for the more successful mutations.
  • Likewise, human technology develops with 1) the knowledge of existing science and technology, 2) the human creativity that generates new innovations, and 3) the market forces that select for more useful innovations and reward creators.

The leverage point is therefore to modify a system’s ability to self-organize. On one hand, you can improve a system’s resilience by enabling self-organization .

Klaus: In the Guide to Donella Meadows 12 Leverage Points, it says “Understanding leverage points in theory is just the beginning. Now you need to deeply analyze a system—understand its structure, its rules, its paradigms—to begin to know where you can push and prod…”

My presentation is largely just about how to analyze a system to understand its structure and its rules. After we do this, then we can then, as Donella says, move on and use leverage points to determine where to change the system. That would be either a significant change of scope of the current presentation, or it may be a separate follow-on presentation.

(The major benefit of my presentation is that it, probably for the first time, shows how to systematically do Systems Thinking.)

from a practical perspective, to understand a system requires understanding the value structure it operates by as a first step, because that pre-determines many choices a system will take. My suggestion here is that each step in these 12 leverage points requires a distinct narrative, that must nevertheless be connected vertically throughout this spiral. Beck and Cohen suggest that the ‘v’ in a vMeme assures alignment throughout the decision making stages. That seems to make sense. Therefore, one would analyze a system meta level starting with its value structure, which then explains and makes transparent what happens downstream. Any significant change would have to start with the narrative in LP 1, or by inserting a competing counter narrative. Once that is in place the system will react accordingly.

Does that make sense?


My whole presentation revolves around a very simple hypothetical business: Carol’s Candy Company. By diagramming out the operations I can graphically demonstrate how the major Systems Thinking concepts interrelate, both in terms of activities and causalities. The high level goal of the company is “Make Candy”. I do not see how values come into play. Can you expand?

how is she hiring people to support her growth strategy? What kind of benefits will she share? Health care? Partnerships? Is she sourcing her raw materials from local producers, is she integrating her operation with local partners? What is the final outcome of her efforts? Getting as rich as is possible, pushing it to the limit? Or creating synergies within her community on the other extreme? Or something in between?

Think of operating in yellow, what would that look like?


For now, the scope of my analysis is liimited to day-to-day operations.

BTW: On one had Donella talks about how a systematically understanding of parameters, stock and flows, stocks and flows, info flows , system rules (boundary), and goals is needed to then appropriately “push and prod” but she does not give any advice on how to come up with such systematic understanding.

THATS what I am working on.

Hi Daniel:

It has been awhile but I did a major reorganization of the presentation. How can I share it with you?

Pay no attention to formatting errors. Such is on the to-do list. BTW: Do you know about converting CLDs to Stock & Flow Diagrams?

Also: Reorg was partly for conversion to presentation. So some content is not “visable” yet.

And the number of presentations is TBD.


@Tony please note that you posted your message to the public topic, not as a private message (my impression is that this meant to send this in a private message)

Please see my earlier private message (can be accessed only by us).

You may find this article relevant on The Systems Thinker: Step-By-Step Stocks and Flows: Converting From Causal Loop Diagrams

There are some quite interesting themes above, though they seem to remain at a somewhat theoretical level (e.g., creating slides). I wonder if the kind of Scrum-board-like information that I started to collect here could be useful for converting the theory into practice:

Systems-thinking: A Little Film About a Big Idea

This video is a great example of introducing Systems Thinking concepts in an engaging & fun way.