Dancing with Systems

The late Donella Meadows’s book Thinking in Systems first exposed me (and countless others) to the idea of systems thinking.

Here’s a great essay of hers that starts from the question of control:

“For those who stake their identity on the role of omniscient conqueror, the uncertainty exposed by systems thinking is hard to take. If you can’t understand, predict, and control, what is there to do?”

Encouraging us to abandon this desire for control and embrace a lack of it, she suggests that working with complex systems is a form of “dance”, before offering us all a superb dance class:

“I had learned about dancing with great powers from whitewater kayaking, from gardening, from playing music, from skiing. All those endeavors require one to stay wide-awake, pay close attention, participate flat out, and respond to feedback. It had never occurred to me that those same requirements might apply to intellectual work, to management, to government, to getting along with people.”