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System Dynamics

Studying and Managing Complex Feedback:

Summary of Systems Thinking. Abstract

Jay R. Forrester (1961)

Systems Thinking is an approach for studying and managing complex feedback systems, such as one finds in business and other social systems. In fact it has been used to address practically every sort of feedback system.

SD is more or less the same as Systems Thinking, but emphasizes the usage of computer-simulation tools.


The term System means an interdependent group of items forming a unified pattern. Feedback refers to the situation of X affecting Y and Y in turn affecting X perhaps through a chain of causes and effects. One cannot study the link between X and Y and, independently, the link between Y and X and predict how the system will behave. Only the study of the whole system as a feedback system will lead to correct results.


The Steps in the SD methodology are roughly as follows:

  1. Identify a problem,

  2. Develop a dynamic hypothesis explaining the cause of the problem,

  3. Build a computer simulation model of the system at the root of the problem,

  4. Test the model to be certain that it reproduces the behavior seen in the real world,

  5. Devise and test in the model alternative policies that alleviate the problem, and

  6. Implement the solution.

Often these steps have to be reviewed and refined going back to an earlier step. For instance, the first problem identified may be only a symptom of a still greater problem.


SD is based on Systems Thinking, but takes the additional steps of constructing and testing a computer simulation model.


The SD field developed initially from the book Industrial Dynamics of Jay W. Forrester.


Typical applications of SD can be found in:

  • strategy and corporate planning

  • business process development

  • public management and policy

  • biological and medical modeling

  • energy and the environment

  • theory development in the natural and social sciences

  • dynamic decision making

  • complex nonlinear dynamics

Book: John Sterman -  Business D.: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World -


Compare with System Dynamics:  Gestalt Theory  |  Scenario Planning  |  Five Disciplines  |  OODA loop  |  Game Theory  |  Spiral Dynamics

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