01 Structured Systems Thinking is a practical method of visualizing and understanding systems structure. It breaks down complex connections into simple visual patterns that explain both current events and how things unfold over time.

02 Structured Systems Thinking helps improve decision making, avoid future problems, and increase performance, but doesn’t rely on technology or deep analysis.

03 It is ideal for professional teams, managers, and senior leadership to work together to solve shared problems.


Interpreting & Navigating Complexity

Gain the grammar, syntax, and vocabulary to explain complex systems and the simple visual tools to depict them.

Operational Effectiveness & Efficiency

Enhance existing efforts by understanding the complete ecosystem of internal and external stakeholders. Understand how they may change in the future to impact operations.

Seeing the Big Picture

Take a bird’s eye view to see both the forest and the trees understanding the relationships and interactions between all parts of the whole.

Making Sense of Data

Integrate data and perceptions to bridge the gap between what can and can’t be easily measured. Connect insights into a larger framework to understand how it all works together.

Strategy Development

Forecast future scenarios and learn to recognize which one is occurring. Test policies and strategies maximize benefits, and avoid future problems.

Convergent Thinking & Decision Making

Dissolve stovepipe thinking by making assumptions explicit and shareable. Facilitate collaboration to answer: “What should we do to accomplish our goals?”

Diagnosing Opportunities

Conduct deeper analysis with feedback effects, threshold dynamics, latent system influences, and identify emergent opportunities (or problems) before they occur.

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Scientific Basis

Systems Thinking is a recognized field within the applied science of System Dynamics.  Developed originally in the 1950’s by Jay Forrester, System Dynamics leverages powerful computer simulations to examine complex systems.  It is used to examine some of the world’s hardest problems such as climate change, military conflicts, corporate strategy, and economic policies. But System Dynamics requires sophisticated technical resources to develop, analyze, and modify the simulations.

Systems Thinking developed as a simpler application of System Dynamics at MIT in the 1980’s. Developed by Peter Senge, Barry Richmond and others it translated the insights obtained by computer simulation into easy-to-use visual models that could be used without requiring advanced degrees.  Since then the field has continued to evolve with the publication of research articles, books, and case studies. A small but growing number of business schools now include some Systems Thinking coursework but for most individuals exposure and practice with it will come once they are already in the workforce.

Structured Systems Thinking is our approach at synthesizing this incredible body of research into a suite of useful and practical tools and concepts accessible to professional teams, managers, and senior leaders. We emphasize the relationship between systems structure and behavior as a means of describing, understanding, and forecasting the behavior of complex systems. Structured Systems Thinking requires no technology or deep mathematical expertise to use successfully. This unlocks the power of both Systems Thinking and System Dynamics for everyday use in companies, non-profits, and government environments.

Timeline of Development

  • 1956

    Jay Forrester joins MIT Sloan School of Management and begins developing System Dynamics.

  • 1957

    First computer software for modeling System Dynamics developed.

  • 1961

    "Industrial Dynamics" published applying System Dynamics to corporate activities.

  • 1969

    "Urban Dynamics" published applying System Dynamics to urban planning and development policies. Used in Boston it helps reverse a 30-year decline in the cities vitality.

  • 1972

    "Limits to Growth" published, applying System Dynamics to world modeling. Examines the impact of growth and consumption practices on global dynamics helping accelerate interest in environmentalism and sustainability.

  • 1984

    New Style Management Project begun at MIT by Peter Senge which will lead to development of Systems Thinking.

  • 1989

    The computer game "SimCity" is released drawing heavily on Urban Dynamics.

  • 1990

    "Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization" published by Peter Senge, heavily incorporating Systems Thinking.

  • 1993

    "System of Profound Knowledge" published by Edward W. Demming proposing a framework similar to Systems Thinking.

  • 1993

    "Systems Thinking: Critical Thinking Skills for the 1990's and Beyond" published by Barry Richmond, codifying many of the practices in Systems Thinking.

  • 1990's

    Master Card - facing competition from Visa - uses a System Dynamics model to re-examine the entire credit card industry. The innovation of co-branded credit cards are deployed as a result, dramatically changing the marketplace.

  • 1990's

    An undisclosed NFL football team commissions a System Dynamics model of it's talent acquisition and management practices. The dramatic change in traditional practices alters the team's trajectory and sets it on the course of becoming a 'dynasty.'

  • 2000

    The United Nations uses System Dynamics to help formulate the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

  • 2000's

    The use of Systems Thinking slowly begins spreading out of academia, think-tanks, and government institutes into broader corporate sectors.

  • 2000's

    Retrospective studies on "Limits to Growth" found that many of it's forecasts have proven accurate and its findings were ~30 years ahead of its time.

  • 2015

    The United Nations returns to System Dynamics to simulate the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

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