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Making Better Decisions Using Systems Thinking

How to stop firefighting, deal with root causes and deliver permanent solutions

Paperback Engels 2018 9783319876627
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This book provides a framework to help managers go beyond simply fighting fires every day, offering the tools to address the underlying causes of recurring problems and deliver long-term solutions.

The most obvious part of any problem is the pain it causes. The desire to end the pain and find a solution – any solution – that will make it go away now is usually so great that it blinds managers to the underlying systemic cause of the problem. The result is that we ‘solve’ the problem today and then it comes back again tomorrow or next week, again and again.

We are only addressing the symptoms but never understanding the cause – like picking the flower heads off weeds but not digging them out at the roots.Schaveling and Bryan offer the insights and tools managers and leaders need to achieve a longer term and more effective approach by stepping back and analysing the system as a whole. And at the heart of any system are human beings – notoriously short-term and pain-averse creatures who will behave in whatever way minimises pain today even at the expense of pain tomorrow.

They show how to detect the behavior patterns that have become engrained in the organisation and which underlie complex situations so that root causes of problems can be identified. Once the system responsible for the problem is understood smarter decisions can be made to devise interventions that solve the core problem instead of wasting energy fighting the symptoms.


Uitgever:Springer International Publishing


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1.     Making better decisions using Systems Thinking

2.     What is systems thinking?

Looking at the whole picture

Unintended side effects

Uncover the underlying dynamics

Looking below the surface of the lily pond



3.     The evolutionary heritage


Two systems

Theory of reality

Compression of data


4.     Good management: dealing wisely with dilemmas

Time dilemma: Do you make short- or long-term choices?

Scope dilemma: Do you choose a narrow or a broad scope?

Awareness dilemma: do you choose to face the facts or take refuge in fantasies?

Dealing with dilemmas: leadership and wisdom


What should we understand by wisdom?

Dealing wisely with organisations

5.     A systemic view of organisations

Reinforcing effects: why do things get out of hand?

The Pygmalion effect: higher expectations lead to higher performance Exponential growth

Balancing feedback: why things don’t budge

6.     Impatient managers create chaos

The effects of time delays

Systems thinking and time delays

What are our steering criteria?

7.     The Value Creation Model

What is the Value Creation Model? Why, What, How

Creating value with distinctive competences

Internal and external developments

The strategic function typology

8.     The value creation model in action

Laboratory for bakery ingredients

Employment agency for surveillance duties

Public agency

Dealing wisely with your reinforcing loop


9.     What has been done when the work is done?

The current situation

The vision

And what do you do next?

10.      Driving forces that generate and sustain patterns

Genetic disposition and system 

Our early years and system 

Our tribe and system  The rational system 


Reality check

11.      Two driving forces in depth: Mental models and Team learning

Mental models: what are the dominant mental models?

Team learning: which group dynamics play a role?

The results of our dive into the lily pond

12.      Looking under the surface of the lily pond: Applying systems thinking in six steps    

Going under the water level: assessing reality and the driving structure

Step 1: tell the whole story

Step 2: describe the behaviour over time in graphs Step 3: formulate the focusing question and your scope

Step 4: identify archetypes or fixed patterns

Step 5: increase your understanding by looking closer at the driving forces

Step 6: planning an intervention

13.      Pitfalls of short time horizon

Fixes that backfire

Shifting the burden

14.      Pitfalls of not looking far enough around you


Success to the successful

15.      Pitfalls of fear of facing reality

Drifting goals

Limits to growth

16.      Pitfall of a combination of short time horizon and not looking far enough around you           

Accidental adversaries

Not building trust

17.      Pitfalls of a combination of short time horizon, not looking far enough around you and fear of facing reality

Growth and under-investment

Tragedy of the commons

18.      Adaptive leadership Sit still

Know the value creation model of your organisation

Don’t think you can make the system perfect

Sometimes you have to begin a new system or organisation

Think holistically: keep the whole system in mind

Make an honest assessment of the situation

Discover the hidden assumptions; verify if everybody is discussing the same subject

Bring the whole system into the room

Look for actions with leverage; don’t use a bigger hammer

Ask yourself the questions of the system thinker

19.      Systemic Pitfalls in Cooperation; The pitfalls from a bird’s eye view.....  

The Value Creation Model Fixes that backfire

Shifting the burden


Success to the successful

Drifting goals

Limits to growth

Accidental adversaries

Growth and underinvestment

Tragedy of the commons

The patterns from a bird’s eye view on 1 A4


 Annexe: Language of systems thinking

Variables and causal relations

Causal relations: same and opposite

Looping technique

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