The Systems Thinking Playbook

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9780966612776: The Systems Thinking Playbook

Book with companion DVD!

This book has become a favorite of K-12 teachers, university faculty, and corporate consultants. It provides short gaming exercises that illustrate the subtleties of systems thinking. The companion DVD shows the authors introducing and running each of the 30 games.

The 30 games are classified by these areas of learning – Mental Models, Team Learning, Systems Thinking, Shared Vision and Personal Mastery. Each description clearly explains when, how, and why the game is useful. There are explicit instructions for debriefing each exercise as well as a list of all required materials. A summary matrix has been added for a quick glance at all 30 games. When you are in a hurry to find just the right initiative for some part of your course, the matrix will help you find it.

Linda Booth Sweeney and Dennis Meadows both have many years of experience working with adults. This book reflects their insights. Every game works well and provokes a deep variety of new insights about paradigms, system boundaries, causal loop diagrams, reference modes, and leverage points. Each of the 30 exercises here was tested and refined many times until it became a reliable source of learning. Some of the games are adapted from classics of the outdoor education field. Others are completely new. But all of them complement readings and lectures to help participants understand intuitively the principles of systems thinking.

The book includes many quotations from practitioner, who share their insights about the relevance of specific exercises. There are also citations for related reading

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About the Author:

Linda Booth Sweeney is at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. Her focus is on assessing a learner's understanding of systems thinking concepts and on developing a taxonomy of systems thinking-related skills, ranging from novice to mastery. She also works with the Society for Organizational Learning as a facilitator and researcher. Linda's background includes a Master's degree in Human Development and Psychology from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and experience as Director of Professional Development for Outward Bound.

Dennis Meadows is director of the Institute for Policy and Social Science Research at the University of New Hampshire. He has authored eight books and numerous computer-assisted role-playing games to convey insight into the long-term dynamics of social systems. He co-directs the Browne Center for Action Learning, a campus offering transformational teamwork training to over 8,000 individuals a year. Dennis has a PhD in Management and Systems Dynamics from M.I.T. and is also past president of the Systems Dynamics Society.


As a person charged with organizational change at our college (the largest two year technical college in the US, with over seventy thousand students, more than three thousand employees, four campuses, two public television stations, three unions and an annual budget of over 207 million dollars a year), I am always looking for ways to get our employees to see a clearer picture.

We have been using "Teeter Totter" as part of our leadership effectiveness training and have noticed several things. First, of course, is the expected "you want us to what?" and the "this won't take more than five minutes" responses. Second, we see a lot of conscious effort on the part of the teams to actually make the exercise work. Third, we have seen some real glimpses of learning. When using this exercise with our campus leadership teams, I noticed an increase in understanding of the dynamics at play. As team members gingerly stepped onto the board, the member who was acting as the coach for the team kept saying "don't just look at where your opposite is on the board, feel where he or she is. Feel the board, feel your contact with the board, feel the other member and what they are feeling." In the de-brief, the conversation turned quickly to how we can understand what the other members on our team are going through during their daily jobs.

Great exercises, great book. -- James B. Rieley, Director The Center for Continuous Quality Improvement Milwaukee Area Technical College

I did a Human Dynamics workshop in April. I went into the Playbook and pulled several exercises. They were so valuable (before and during tha day) because: - the intention is explicit - the directions are so clear - the advice is wise I used "Five Easy Pieces."

Your description was very clear and easy to follow. I also did "Circles in the Air" at what turned out to be exactly the right time.

Thanks for doing such a great job of documenting and sharing your knowledge. -- Ruthann Prange

I have just received the second volume of the Systems Thinking Playbook. It has been a much-awaited treat. Thank you for creating something which is so easy to use and so incredibly valuable. -- Cindy Schlough Madison Area Quality Improvement Network

I have the constant challenge of managing a diverse and talented graphic arts staff, so I am always looking for ways to engage them in discussions of the larger issues facing our company. The "Mind Grooving" exercises made a big impression on my management team. In one group, "Furniture" turned up the usual 'chair' and 'sofa' - and 'dust'! We also did "Arms Crossed" at a full division meeting of sixty as part of a discussion on change in our working environment. Keep up the good work. -- Rebeccah K. Neff, DirectorCreative Solutions Division SAS Institute, Inc.

I tried out the first five exercises last night in my class and they worked beautifully!!! The facilitation went smoothly. These exercises are very effective in helping other learn the key concepts of systems thinking. -- Carol Ann Zulauf, Professor, Organizational Behavior Suffolk University

Your Systems Thinking Playbook has become a bible to me! What is so wonderful about these exercises is that the point you're trying to make is immediately obvious to everyone; there's no need to explain what participants were supposed to have learned. I used "Circles in the Air" as an icebreaker that kicked off a week-long international meeting with all of my company's international subsidiaries. The simple point about perspective was especially relevant for this international group. --Peter Smith, Director of Organizational Development WorldxChange Communications

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