Thinking in Systems, Through Sayings and Quotes

February 7, 2017 2 Comments

“Systems thinking without systems thinkers will change nothing.”

Derek and Laura Cabrera

A few months ago, Andrew Grant-Thomas of EmbraceRace and I presented an interactive session at the Facing Race Conference in Atlanta on systems thinking tools to address structural racism. We had offered a similar session at the 2014 conference in Dallas with our colleague Cynthia Silva Parker, and as it turns out, both sessions were done in a standing-room-only situation. Clearly there is a hunger for these skills and tools among racial justice advocates.

Systems thinking as a field has been around for a few decades, but its direct application to structural racism has not been widespread. Even where racism has been discussed systemically, activists have often craved practical skills and tools to identify and align strategically around areas of intervention that will yield the greatest return for effort.

In our session in Atlanta, we spent some time talking about and exploring the “thinking” side of systems thinking. We presented a few systems thinking sayings and quotes from different writers and practitioners, and invited participants to read and reflect on them and talk with others about the ones that most caught their attention. A specific request was to pay to attention to how the words impacted their thinking and perspectives. There were, in just the span of about 10-15 minutes, some remarkable insights reported. And so I invite you to do the same, to share any impacts, and also to add your own favorite systems thinking sayings.

“Remember, always, that everything you know, and everything everyone knows, is only a model. Get your model out there where it can be viewed. Invite others to challenge your assumptions and add their own.”

Donella H. Meadows

“All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.”

– The Buddha

“Listening to both sides of a story will convince you that there is more to a story than both sides.”

Frank Tyger

“An important function of almost every system is to ensure its own perpetuation.”

– Donella H. Meadows

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

Donald Berwick

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

H. L. Mencken

“If you do not understand your role in the problem, it is difficult to be part of the solution.”

– David Peter Stroh

“You think that because you understand “one” that you must therefore understand “two” because one and one make two. But you forget that you must also understand “and.”

– Donella H. Meadows

“Addiction is finding a quick and dirty solution to the symptom of the problem, which prevents or distracts one from the harder and longer-term task of solving the real problem.”

– Donella H. Meadows

“We have created trouble for ourselves in organizations by confusing control with order.”

Margaret J. Wheatley

“Yet we act as if simple cause and effect is at work. We push to find the one simple reason things have gone wrong. We look for the one action, or the one person, that created this mess. As soon as we find someone to blame, we act as if we’ve solved the problem.”

– Margaret J. Wheatley

“Our universe is still unfolding and human beings are active and creative participants. Creativity is both the universe’s ordering principle and its process, part of the greater creativity of nature.”

Gregory Cajete 


  • Compiled by Teacher Dominic Mashariki………………………………………………..!

  • Thank you for sharing these quotes. I recently read the book by Donella H. Meadows. I’m blown away by the whole idea of systems! Once you see and understand the model of systesms, you start to see systems everywhere. This is a tremendous help. You no longer tackle surface problems. You tackle the core issue.

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