Monthly Archives: November 2012

Embracing Complexity

Mehreen Faruqi, Embracing Complexity to Enable Change, Environmental Leadership: A Reference Handbook, Sage 2012 This chapter forms part of a larger handbook on environmental leadership released this year, but many of the points Faruqi makes are equally applicable to the social sector. She starts with an idea shared by all systems thinkers (and many leaders): that the failure to systematically address big issues (or ‘wicked’ problems) is due to mismatches between problems and solutions. As she … Continue reading

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21st Century Enlightenment

Matthew Taylor, 2010, 21st Century Enlightenment, Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), UK While not strictly systems thinking, Matthew Taylor’s work is a compelling call to arms for the type of thinking and behaviour embodied in systems thinking approaches. His ideas are expressed in an essay, a speech and a short animation. The essay is the most ‘academic’ in tone and the animation the most accessible. Taylor, from the Royal … Continue reading

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Nonprofit Leaders

‘Street credentials and management backgrounds: Careers of nonprofit executives in an evolving sector’ in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 39 (4): 696-716 Review by guest contributor Hokyu Hwang Not-for-profit organisations around the world are facing challenging times. On the one hand, an impending leadership deficit looms large: the retirement of the Baby Boom Generation is expected to create a shortage of not-for-profit leaders. On the other hand, the retreat of the welfare state and the … Continue reading

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Wicked Problems

‘Dilemmas in the general theory of planning’ short article by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber in Policy Science 4 pp 155-159 This is a modification of a paper presented to the panel on policy sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Boston, December 1969. Review by Guest Contributor: Dr Mehreen Faruqi The use of the term ‘wicked problem’ has recently become popular vernacular as a way of describing complex, multidimensional and interconnected social and … Continue reading

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Learning from Evidence

John Sterman, 2006, American Journal of Public Health, 96, 3 Why is it that when a politician announces a reduction in hospital waiting lists for surgery, the net effect is often to make the situation worse? In this article, John Sterman from MIT (who has written widely on systems thinking) explores why policies to promote health and welfare can end up failing, or even exacerbating the problems they are meant to solve. This is where … Continue reading

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Thinking in Systems: A Primer

By Donella Meadows, 2009, published by Earthscan, Abingdon “There is too much bad news to justify complacency. There is too much good news to justify despair.” –          Donella Meadows. No serious student of systems thinking can ignore the contributions of the late Donella Meadows. She is perhaps best known for her work on the Limits to Growth, and for the State of the Village Report; the latter inspiring the well-known Miniature Earth Project video. In … Continue reading

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Summer 2012/13: Leadership and Systems Thinking

‘If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.’ – Robert Pirsig (1974 p92) In the quintessentially ‘70s book Zen and … Continue reading

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