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Seeing the Forest for the Trees: A Manager's Guide to Applying Systems Thinking: A Manager's Guide to Applying Systems Thinking

Book Description

Dennis Sherwood’s Seeing the Forest for the Trees: A Manager’s Guide to Applying Systems Thinking is a wealth of tips and advice on everything from managing a busy back office to negotiating an outsourcing deal. The book argues that only by taking a broad view can we avoid the dangers of a silo mentality, in which a fix here simply shifts the problem there, and organizational myopia, in which a fix now gives rise to a much bigger problem to fix later. Systems thinking can help you tame the complexity of real-world problems by providing a structured way to balance broad views with a selection of relevant details, allowing you to accurately “see the forest for the trees.” With this handy guide, you can turn the old adage on its head and get ahead in business at the same time!

Table of Contents

  1. Cover Page
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright Page
  4. Contents
  5. Acknowledgments
  6. Foreword
  7. Prologue: What is systems thinking?
    1. Systems thinking is a big idea
    2. So what is systems thinking all about?
    3. Connectedness
    4. Why systems must be studied as a whole
    5. The systems thinking toolkit
    6. The benefits of systems thinking
    7. How the book works
  8. PART I: TAMING COMPLEXITY
    1. 1 The systems perspective
      1. Systems
      2. Emergence and self-organization
      3. Feedback
      4. Systems thinking
      5. On with our journey…
    2. 2 Carrying the back office rock
      1. The story
      2. The context
      3. The issue
      4. A diagrammatic representation
      5. Enriching the diagram
      6. What happens as a consequence of error?
      7. A nasty vicious circle
      8. What else drives the ability to cope?
      9. But what about cost?
      10. There’s still one thing missing…
      11. Back to wisdom
    3. 3 Quality, creativity, and cutting costs
      1. The story
      2. The context
      3. The picture
      4. Another nasty vicious circle
      5. What should we do?
      6. Who’s right?
      7. Deciding policy
  9. PART II: TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES
    1. 4 Feedback loops
      1. The central role of feedback loops
      2. Reinforcing loops
      3. Balancing loops
      4. Dangles, boundaries, and real systems
      5. There are only two types of link—the S and the O
      6. Distinguishing between reinforcing loops and balancing loops
      7. The two fundamental building blocks
      8. The importance of language
      9. Are all links always either an S or an O?
      10. Fuzzy variables
      11. Ss and Os that work in one direction only
      12. A final thought
    2. 5 The engines of growth—and decline
      1. Vicious and virtuous circles
      2. Vicious and virtuous circles really do have the same structure
      3. The engine of growth
      4. Patterns of growth
      5. Exponential growth becomes very fast
      6. Explicit and implicit dangles
      7. Boom and bust
      8. Reinforcing loops can be linked
    3. 6 Setting targets, seeking goals
      1. More on balancing loops
      2. Balancing loops in business
      3. Balancing loops are often linked
      4. Balancing loops and time delays
      5. What is the definition of variance?
      6. Time to reflect
    4. 7 How to draw causal loop diagrams
      1. Rule 1: Know your boundaries
      2. Rule 2: Start somewhere interesting
      3. Rule 3: Ask “What does this drive?” and “What is this driven by?”
      4. Rule 4: Don’t get cluttered
      5. Rule 5: Use nouns, not verbs
      6. Rule 6: Don’t use terms such as “increase in” or “decrease in”
      7. Rule 7: Don’t be afraid of unusual items
      8. Rule 8: Do the Ss and the Os as you go along
      9. Rule 9: Keep going
      10. Rule 10: A good diagram must be recognized as real
      11. Rule 11: Don’t fall in love with your diagrams
      12. Rule 12: No diagram is ever “finished”
  10. PART III: APPLICATIONS
    1. 8 Stimulating growth
      1. In real life, exponential growth does not go on for ever
      2. Breaking through the constraints
      3. The growth of urban populations
        1. The context
        2. The dynamics of population growth
        3. Driving economic prosperity
        4. Urban growth doesn’t go on for ever
        5. The final causal loop diagram
        6. The moral of this story
      4. Don’t pedal harder, take the brakes off
    2. 9 Decisions, teamwork, and leadership
      1. The talent problem
        1. The senior executive’s perspective
        2. The star’s perspective
        3. The perspective of the more junior staff
        4. What is the best policy?
      2. But that’s all so obvious, isn’t it?
      3. Mental models
      4. Teamwork
      5. Outsourcing, partnering, and cross-boundary conflict
        1. How the world looks to the buyer
        2. How the world looks to the contractor
        3. Is there a better way?
        4. The systems perspective
    3. 10 Levers, outcomes, and strategy
      1. Levers
      2. Outcomes
      3. How are the levers and the outcomes connected?
      4. Levers, outcomes, and systems thinking
      5. Levers, outcomes, and loops
      6. Connecting the loops
      7. The last link
      8. What about the other levers?
      9. A general business model
      10. The big picture
      11. Encouraging ambition, vision, and imagination
      12. How to be creative
      13. Back to levers and outcomes
    4. 11 Public Policy
      1. Systems thinking also applies to matters of public policy
      2. Back to population
      3. What are the consequences of economic activity?
      4. What is the structure of this system and how does it behave?
      5. Gaia
      6. Global warming
      7. Linking the loops together
      8. The impact of storms
      9. The four horsemen ride again
      10. This goes way beyond global warming
      11. What should we do?
  11. PART IV: HOW TO BUILD A “LABORATORY OF THE FUTURE”
    1. 12 Turbo-charging your systems thinking
      1. System dynamics
      2. System dynamics and spreadsheets
      3. Stocks and flows
      4. Stocks and flows in business
      5. Two more unifying concepts
      6. Causal loop diagrams and plumbing diagrams
      7. Modeling in ithink
    2. 13 Modeling business growth
      1. A business example
      2. Fuzzy variables
      3. Models for answers, models for learning
      4. Managing the marketing mix
      5. What policies would you invoke to optimize the business?
      6. Is the 80:20 split the best deal?
  12. Epilogue: Complexity tamed
  13. Bibliography
  14. Websites
  15. Software
  16. Index