A very rough and partial draft systems thinking reading list

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Draft systems thinking reading list





A very partial and incomplete list!

Advice: there are *so many* flavours of systems thinking / complexity / cybernetics – do yourself a favour and don’t flog through stuff that doesn’t work for you, find things that bring your mind alive.

Start with the articles and skim through.

Many of the books can be found online for free (often pirated) – monoskop.org is good – useful for many modern management books (read the first chapter and you’ve got all the ideas) and for the old, deep stuff (read enough to see if you want to dive in) – but do buy the book if you value it.

Have a look at the core systems and the practice requirements at https://www.instituteforapprenticeships.org/apprenticeship-standards/systems-thinking-practitioner/ – you need both to be a systems practitioner

General RedQuadrant reading list (public service transformation with a flavour of systems thinking):

Groups to join:

For COVID-19, Rob Young has set up a facebook group to collate all systems-related updates – https://stream.syscoi.com/2020/04/07/please-join-and-contribute-covid-19-resources-systems-community-facebook-group/

Systems Community of Inquiry https://stream.syscoi.com/
(replaces model.report – systems thinking repository and discussion – see https://syscoi.com/model.report/model.report/newest.html for static archive)

Systems thinking network https://www.linkedin.com/groups/2639211

systems thinking facebook groups at

SCiO – Systems and Complexity in Organisation

Nick Ananin’s systems thinking events map worldwide) https://goo.gl/4PXkCg

Other key systems thinking groups:

Illuminate/SIGNAL – building the field of systems change https://mailchi.mp/cf0bdef6497a/illuminate

Systems Convening – Bev and Etienne Wenger-Trayner are writing a manual, and a good group has formed: https://groups.io/g/systems-convening / https://wenger-trayner.com/systems-convening/

Systems innovation – http://systemsinnovation.io/ and slack at http://systemsinnovationteam.slack.com


Systems One: An Introduction to Systems Thinking – Draper L. Kauffman Jr. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1btuVMWRAIg0PelXOOJ07ddq0f_nTPTP7/view?usp=sharing (short book – 48 pages)

Making Work Systems Better – Luc Hoebeke (book – 138 pages) https://drive.google.com/file/d/17btE9GsAMi2M5j418IgDLhpNoR5lK3rR/view?usp=sharing

Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative, and the Philosophy of Science – Alasdair MacIntyre https://drive.google.com/file/d/1VPkr5mIn8vnBw_mMl5rCOgMYroyYCx4p/view?usp=sharing (journal publication – 20 pages)

A first lesson in meta-rationality – David Chapman https://meaningness.com/metablog/bongard-meta-rationality

Barry Oshry’s Organic Systems Framework (power+systems) – human systems.

An Overview of the Soft Systems Methodology – Stuart Burge (article – 14 pages) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ngzFoLZScboUurv6TF47F3QkgXCh8vpG/view?usp=sharing

Leverage Points: Places to intervene in a System – Donnella Meadows (article – 21 pages) https://drive.google.com/file/d/18lO4QcbqBUhlm0EmtkjeauwDInhp1H_G/view?usp=sharing

Dancing with systems – Donnella Meadows

A Systems Literacy Manifesto – Hugh Dubberly (presentation – 59 slides) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1OHQqAkwL48YM8iB4R7vJqJdLbd8SxmG7/view?usp=sharing

The Viable Systems Model

Simple Rules for a Complex World – Kathy Eisenhardt, Donald Sull (short article – 12 pages) https://hbr.org/2012/09/simple-rules-for-a-complex-world

Adaptiveness in human social organisation: some guiding principles – Michael Church (journal publication – ten pages) https://cmapspublic.ihmc.us/rid=1LLD90NQ0-N92GXZ- 29CZ/ADAPTIVENESS%20IN%20HUMAN%20SOCIAL%20ORGANISATION.htm

Chris Argyris: Theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning (journal publication – 23 pages) https://drive.google.com/open?id=1FMrOWbkU0BAJzbDlawwIjb6oOZkgNMSZ

Systems Approaches to Public Sector Challenges: Working with Change, OECD (free)


Wicked Solutions – Williams and Van ‘t Hof


Treaty for Government – a systems thinking approach to Government – Ed Straw http://www.treatyforgovernment.com/ (book – 254 pages)

The Hidden Power of Systems Thinking – Ray Ison and Ed Straw

Stand & Deliver: A Design for Successful Government – Ed Straw (presentation – 21 slides) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1A8NTYzR78SbWci9Lcl3xLB_eMqqMD9xS/view?usp=sharing

Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed – James Scott (long book – 460 pages)

Barry Oshry’s Organic Systems Framework (power+systems)

Navigating Complexity: The Essential Guide to Complexity Theory in Business and Management Arthur Battram (book – 270 pages)
Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Navigating-Complexity-Essential-Business- Management/dp/185835899X/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1427326475&sr=8- 3&keywords=navigating+complexity&pldnSite=1
RedQuadrant library: https://redquadrant.libib.com/#36939049X

The Fractal Organisation – Patrick Hoverstadt (book – 338 pages)
Amazon: http://smile.amazon.co.uk/Fractal-Organization-Creating-Sustainable- Organizations/dp/0470060565/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1427326460&sr=8- 1&keywords=the+fractal+organisation
RedQuadrant library: https://redquadrant.libib.com/#1029021X

Thinking in Systems: A Primer – Diana Wright, Donella H. Meadows (book – 240 pages)
Amazon: https://smile.amazon.co.uk/Thinking-Systems-Primer-Diana-Wright/dp/1844077268
RedQuadrant library: https://redquadrant.libib.com/#1031733X

Images of Organization – Gareth Morgan (long book – 520 pages)
Amazon: https://smile.amazon.co.uk/Images-Organization-Gareth-Morgan/dp/1412939798
RedQuadrant library: https://redquadrant.libib.com/#1029098X

The Little Book of Beyond Budgeting – Steve Morlidge (book – 96 pages) https://smile.amazon.co.uk/Little-Book-Beyond-Budgeting-Organisations/dp/1785899287

Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps – Jennifer Berger (article – 24 pages) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1G6SFoI5YnsATXtXXWlIwJl_zIL6ojGfb/view?usp=sharing

(book – 168 pages) Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Unlocking-Leadership-Mindtraps-Thrive- Complexity/dp/1503609014

The Systems Thinking Playbook – Meadows and Sweeney

Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos – Mitchell Waldrop

Out of Control – Kelly

Systems Thinkers – Ramage and Shipp

Systems Approaches to Management – Michael Jackson

Systems Approaches to Managing Change – Reynolds and Howell

Systems Thinking for Social Change – Stroh

The Systems Approach and Its Enemies – West Churchman

The Brain of the Firm – Beer

Safety Differently: Human Factors for a New Era, Second Edition – Dekker

Strong Towns – Marohn