The most effective way of dealing with policy resistance is to find an alignment of the goals in the system, so that all actors are working harmoniously and naturally toward the same outcome. If this can be done, the results can be amazing.

from Whole Earth Models and Systems (1982)

Portrait of Donella Meadows

Donella Meadows

Environmental Scientist
March 13, 1941 – February 20, 2001

Dr. Donella H. Meadows, a Pew Scholar in Conservation and Environment and a MacArthur Fellow, was one of the most influential environmental thinkers of the twentieth century. After receiving a Ph.D in biophysics from Harvard, she joined a team at MIT applying the relatively new tools of system dynamics to global problems. She became principal author of The Limits to Growth (1972), which sold more than 9 million copies in 26 languages. She went on to author or co-author eight other books.

In 1996, Donella founded the Sustainability Institute with the mission of fostering transitions to sustainable systems at all levels of society, from local to global. The Institute adopted the name of its founder in 2011 and renewed its commitment to the organization’s original mission and to making Donella’s work easily and broadly accessible. She rigorously analyzed the systems that produce the complex problems facing humanity, and she described with humor and humility what needed to be done to create healthy functional alternatives.

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A Philosophical Look at System Dynamics

Presented at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire.

Cover image for The Limits to Growth

The Limits to Growth

In 1972, three scientists from MIT created a computer model that analyzed global resource consumption and production. Their results shocked the world and created stirring conversations about global ’overshoot,’ or resource use beyond the carrying capacity of the planet.

Cover image for Thinking in Systems: A Primer

Thinking in Systems

A Primer

In Thinking in Systems, Donella Meadows provides an accessible introduction to systems thinking, explaining how to understand complex systems and interact within them more effectively. She describes different types of systems, including physical and social systems, and key system concepts like stocks, flows, feedback loops, leverage points, and delays. Meadows illustrates these ideas through real-world examples and models, and argues that adopting a systems perspective can help address many of society’s challenges in areas like sustainability, politics, and business. She aims to teach readers to think broadly about interconnections, change over time, and root causes so they can better understand and influence systems for desired outcomes.

Cover image for Whole Earth Models and Systems

Whole Earth Models and Systems

An accessible essay by Meadows that serves as a fast-paced introduction to systems thinking, particularly its archetypes.

Mentioned in 3 documents

Gottfried Mayer-Kress

The Global Brain as an Emergent Structure from the Worldwide Computing Network

We propose that the existence of a globally and tightly connected network of computer workstations such as the Internet can lead to the emergence of a globally self-organized structure which we refer to as the Global Brain.

Erich Jantsch and Conrad Hal Waddington

Evolution and Consciousness

Evolution and Consciousness is one of the first, still rare, truly transdisciplinary books: it deals with a totality, not a sector of it. Therefore, it defies any disciplinary labeling. It is a scientific book, yet also deals with topics until now reserved for books of mysticism and poetry. It bridges the gap between science and other forms of knowledge. It deals not just with scientific questions, but with existential questions which concern all mankind, such as the meaning of life and the evolutionary significance of human design and action. It challenges the whole dominant Western world view: process thinking instead of structural thinking, dynamic instead of static, evolution instead of permanency.

Tyler Volk

Metapatterns

In the interdisciplinary tradition of Buckminster Fuller’s work, Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature, and Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics, Metapatterns embraces both nature and culture, seeking out the grand-scale patterns that help explain the functioning of our universe. Metapatterns begins with the archetypal patterns of space, both form-building and relational. Tyler Volk then turns to the arrows, breaks, and cycles that infuse the workings of time. With artful dexterity, he brings together many layers of comprehension, drawing on an astounding range of material from art, architecture, philosophy, mythology, biology, geometry, and the atmospheric and oceanographic sciences. Richly illustrating his metapatterns with a series of sophisticated collages prepared for this book, Volk offers an exciting new look at science and the imagination. As playful and intuitive as it is logical and explanatory, Metapatterns offers an enlightening view of the functional, universal form in space, processes in time, and concepts in mind.