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The Elements of Thinking in Systems

Use Systems Archetypes to Understand, Manage, and Fix Complex Problems and Make Smarter Decisions
Written by: Albert Rutherford
Narrated by: Russell Newton
Length: 4 hrs and 2 mins
5 out of 5 stars (2 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Would you like to have better solutions to your problems? Struggling to understand why things went wrong when you did everything right? The Elements of Thinking in Systems can help you with these problems. 

Systems surround us, and we might not even be aware of it. Your household is a system. The bakery on the corner is a system. Your class at school, your department at work, and your weekend soccer team made of wholehearted dads is a system, too. You are a vital part of more complex systems like your country, the economy, or the world; learn about their changing nature and find optimal solutions to problems related to them. 

The world is more connected than ever thanks to innovations like telephone, television, computers, and internet. The way we sense reality changed significantly. Using conventional thinking to understand the world as it functions today is not enough. We need to know the elements of systems thinking to see beyond simple cause-effect connections. This audiobook will help you to find strategic solutions to every complex modern problem.

The Elements of Thinking in Systems focuses on the nine fundamental system archetypes; our mental models related to them and the step-by-step implication methods to fix them. Learn to use systems archetypes to solve your problems at work, in your business, in your relationship, and social connections.  

See through the motivations and understand the drives of contemporary politics, economics, and education. Widen your perspective, think critically, analyze deeply, clear your vision, and be more logical and rational just by applying systems thinking. 

Think differently and get different results. 

  • Learn the language of systems thinking.
  • Apply the best systems-thinking ideas, models, and frameworks in your cognitive and decision-making process. 
  • Learn to understand, design, and find solutions to the main system problems, called "archetypes".

Complexity, organizational pathways, and networks gain more and more importance in our interconnected world. The Elements of Thinking in Systems gives you real-life examples to make the adoption process of this type of thinking smooth. 

Define your problems more accurately, find better, long-lasting solutions to your problems, learn to create strategic plans using systems diagrams, and understand your place and power over the world. 

©2019 Albert Rutherford (P)2019 Albert Rutherford

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  • Mario Lopez
  • 2019-03-19

Don't hate the player, hate (and fix) the game

There was something about this book that I didn't quite like. I'm not sure if it's because this book is covering a complex topic, or if it's because I just didn't care for the way the information was laid out. I usually like books of this nature to provide a high level overview of the topic followed by details for each component. I didn't really feel like I got that here.

Aside from that, though, this book was great. The topic covers so many aspects of life that I'd expect everyone to take something different away from the book. My take away was that when failures occur, you should look at the system that created that error. That is, you should look at the big picture, see how all of the elements are connected, and identify the root cause of a problem in order to fix it long-term. We shouldn't look for individual people to blame, and we shouldn't even look at individual elements if we want a long-term fix.

While I'm tempted to expand on this, the book does a much better job explaining it all. I highly recommend it.

The audiobook's narration was smooth and consistent. I was able to comfortably listen to it at 2.5x speed and catch every word.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Cyphers Fallen
  • 2019-03-18

Best Ways to Approach and Solve a Problem

Thia audiobook contains useful strategies to identify and solve problems. I found my self, while a listened, applying it easily to my every day life. It helped with questions like; How can I make my side business more successful and cope with growth? How to prepare for a new job interview? And, What is causing me to repeat the same mistakes? The Narrator is a great fit for this type of audiobook. His delivery was perfect for conveying complex information and kept mind focused on what was being said. I thoroughly enjoyed the audiobook and think it will help me in my future endeavors.

I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • E.H. Benson
  • 2019-03-31

Basic primer for systems thinking

I've read many of the books mentioned as references in this audiobook. Overall, the presentation is excellent. The content is an introduction to the basic concepts of systems thinking. Occasionally it gets a little confusing, but in most of these instances I needed a diagram in front of me to truly understand what the author was talking about. If you are interested in learning about systems thinking, take a listen. If you've already read a bit on the topic, I would suggest finding a more technical text to expand your horizons.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • G. Ho
  • 2019-05-04

Introduction to System Archetypes

"The Elements of Thinking in Systems" is an accessible introduction to systems thinking. This is to say, this book will challenge linear thinking (a causes b) and help the reader or listener to consider the relationship of other variables as well as unintended consequences.

The book is structured around nine archetypes. This include Fixes that Backfire, Shifting the Burden, Limits to Success, Tragedy of the Commons and so on. Each archetype is defined and examples are provided. For example, "Fixes that Backfire" occurs when in an effort to fix present problems, short-term solutions are implemented which have harmful long-term effects. An example of this might be medication to dull physical pain, rather than addressing the root issue. The author further illustrates the point with a hypothetical company and the well-intended but ultimately disastrous fixes to improve sales numbers.

As a manager in a non-profit organization, I learned some new ways of thinking through challenges that we face. One of the strengths of the book is the broad ranging applications. Rather than focus on business applications, the author includes examples from marriage and family, public administration, and international relations, and others.

The book is an easy listen, and it is narrated well. I listened to it over the course of three days to get an overview of the material. However I would suggest that it is best absorbed when the listener can give full attention and look at the associated diagrams while listening to the book. The book is easy for me to recommend as an introduction, and afterwards you may be interested to go further in your studies and look for additional resources to work through the different archetypes in the situations you face. I had hoped that the author would have included short summaries or offered a process by which to think through or apply the archetypes, but that would have made for a much longer book.

This book was given to me for free at my request and I provided this voluntary review.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • William
  • 2019-04-29

Interesting models to help focus you thinking.

The content of this book is very accessible to a beginner and provides insights into different models and ways of thinking about systems. It's been a couple of weeks since I listened, and I find my mind going back to reference some of the models when approaching problems in my consultancy role. Pros Simple examples used to illustrate the models Wide range of systems described. Online pages of diagrams to support the book Cons Its harder to reference the online diagrams while listening than it would be in a printed version. I found I had to create bookmarks and rewind and re listen to get the most out of them I wonder if the author could add the diagrams URL to the details. so it can be found without trying to scan through the audio of the introduction ( or make the URL it's own mini chapter so it can be located easily)

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • peter walowen
  • 2019-05-20

reference to alot of illustrations

content is on target but ths book really should not be an audible book. too many references to the illustrations make it very difficult to get much value .

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  • D
  • 2019-05-20

No diagrams

Promising, but couldn't get far without the non-existent illustrations.
Audible's process for getting a PDF attachment is unnecessary cumbersome on mobile. It's especially disappointing when a book that repeatedly references diagrams provides no diagrams.

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  • Nathan Mayotte
  • 2019-05-04

Great introduction to systems thinking

Great introduction to systems thinking. Download the diagrams before listening as they will help understand the concepts that are presented.

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  • Brian M
  • 2019-05-04

Use these systems to improve your day to day life

Preface: This review was written listening only to the audiobook, which was a gift. I did not have the physical text on hand to reference while listening. There are digital reference materials available on the author's website (http://www.albertrutherford.com/diagrams3).

Those of us who enjoy listening to political discussions have heard at some point phrases like "systemic corruption" or "systems of power". While we may ponder some specific details of those problems, have you ever given a thought to how they relate to your local sewer system? They're both kinds of systems, right? Then what the heck is a system even? If you want a great answer to this question, that's where "The Elements of Thinking in Systems" comes in. Rutherford sets out to educate his audience on what systems are and how we can use a better understanding of them to enhance our lives.

There are linear and systemic approaches to tackling problems, and Rutherford opens the book with a story about how a business had to use systemic thinking in order to solve it's problems after linear thinking had failed them. The great thing about this book is that it becomes very clear quickly that in no way do you need to be running your own business or be in some kind of position of power to benefit from understanding how systems work. Following the diagrams presented over the course of the book shows us how to rewind problems and find indirect reasons for problems, and most importantly teaches us how to create mental diagrams for our own problems.

Each chapter provides us with different archetypes or problems we can reference when trying to wrap our heads around our own daily problems. I found a great benefit from the book in learning about various systemic failures and thinking about if these sorts of mental mistakes were present in my day to day life. My favorite section in the book was when he was talking about systems of personal growth, which encouraged me to map out my own personal projects and growth in a diagram form to see if I were committing any of the problems talked about in the book.

While I found the book to be very interesting, there are problems when listening to it in the audiobook form. There is a lot of new information at the start of the book. If you're someone like me who comes in with zero knowledge of the topic, you might need to rewind the intro chapter and chapter on basic terminology to take notes like I did, meaning you need to get this out of the way before listening to the rest of the chapters in a more relaxed state later like a normal audiobook.

Another problem with listening as an audiobook is following along with the diagrams online. If you take a break between the chapters over a few days, you can easily lose track of where you were in the diagrams. Since they are not numbered, you'll want to do something like highlighting the picture you were on last. Fortunately, there are no problems following along with the narration in the book. The narrator reminds me a bit of Brian from Family Guy sometimes, and I didn't encounter any hiccups while listening.

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  • GoingGoingGone...
  • 2019-04-24

Don’t discuss this on a date

Okay, so this is a good intro to the subject, and yet it’s not a touchy feely fun way of approaching life. I don’t deny that there are a few pearls of wisdom in these methods, but even the more analytical among us don’t live our day to day lives in accordance with the actions taught in MBA business analysis courses, but rather more in line with "complexity theory". In practice, most people just aren’t going to be able to convince others to speak in the vocabulary of this book, and the skills it teaches will be the occasional “secret sauce” you’ll avail yourself of here and there, mostly instinctual rather than analytically.

Furthermore, as evidenced by a few of the examples given, the methods in this book don’t yield solutions that are free from bias unless you’re aware of your biases. They don’t yield order unless you appreciate the role chaos plays in priming creativity, and how variables fall in line in a slave/master relationship such that one variable tends to pull the others in line - and it's not always the one we'd consider most optimal using the methods in this book.

So in all I think that while this has value, it’s a bit too ivory tower for "rough" project management tasks like construction, but it may work for tech or financial sectors. This isn’t to say it doesn’t sum up the subject well, it does. Rather it’s not likely to be nearly enough without experience, critical thinking, awareness of bias and creativity and this book doesn’t really get into this enough.

I received this book for free in exchange for my non-biased review.