Thinking in Systems: A Primer

Donella H. Meadows

Diana Wright

Finished Reading:
Sep 12, 2020

Edition Publisher:
Chelsea Green Publishing

Edition Release:

Recommendation Rating:

Purchase Search via DuckDuckGo:
ISBN 9781603580557


Aug 23, 2020

Re: Results as the product of a system

...putting new actors into the same system will not improve the system's performance. What makes a difference is redesigning the system to improve the information, incentives, disincentives, goals, stresses, and constraints that have an effect on specific actors.

Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows (2008)

This echo's Lou Downe mention of Conway's Law in Good Services. The law states that "[a]ny organization that designs a system will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure." The product/services/result is "infused with the essence of its creators."1

Downe goes on to say that siloed organizations result in siloed services, and that lack of diversity in your team results in a lack of inclusion in your service. I bought the two stickers seen below, and they sit on my window sill as a reminder.

A bright orange square sticker with the words, "Lack of diversity in your team = lack of inclusion in your service" in white type.
Sticker from Lou Downe's shop.
A bright orange square sticker with the words, "Siloed organizations build siloed services" in white type.
Sticker from Lou Downe's shop.

This all makes me look at the systems we have in place in our society, and it's like, "Duh. Of course we're where we are today." Look at our foundations. The boundaries we've crossed. The lives we've silenced. The voices we've magnified. The kinds of values we've allowed to proliferate.

I can be upset about this, but can also zoom in and recognize how a person's decisions (my 'odd/bad' decisions included) are viewed as rational to them within the network of information they have. It's not an excuse for the (possibly negative) behaviour, but you get a better idea about why the behaviour manifests. It helps quell the anger, so I can switch to something that helps me move on.


1 – Van Dusen, M. (2016, May 19). A principle called “Conway’s Law” reveals a glaring, biased flaw in our technology. Quartz. Retrieved Aug 23, 2020, from