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Book : Seeing the Forest for the Trees: A Manager’s Guide to Applying Systems (2002)

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

Publisher:Nicholas Brealey Publishing Ltd.

Author(s):Sherwood, Dennis

Published: 2002 • ISBN: 185788311X • 235 pages • Delivery Format: Hard Copy - Paperback

Available from: Amazon (DE)Amazon (UK)Amazon (US)


From the publisher:

Systems thinking can help you tame the complexity of real world problems by providing a structured way of balancing a broad, overall view with the selection of the right level of detail, truly allowing you to see the forest for the trees.

Only by taking a broad view can we avoid the twin dangers of a silo mentality - in which a fix ‘here’ simply shifts the problem to ‘there’ - and organisational myopia - in which a fix ‘now’ gives rise to a much bigger problem to fix ‘then’.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees will give you all the tools and techniques you need, with many practical examples as diverse as managing a busy back office, negotiating an outsourcing deal and formulating business strategy.

Dennis Sherwood was for twelve years a consulting partner with Coopers & Lybrand and was subsequently an Executive Director at Goldman Sachs in London, a partner in Bossard Consultants, and Vice President of SRI Consulting. Educated at the universities of Cambridge, Yale and California, and a Sloan Fellow, with Distinction, of the London Business School, he is now the Managing Director of Organica Consulting which specialised in building competitive advantage through innovation whose clients include Thames Water, Nestle, National Grid, Pearson TV, The Defence Evaluation & Research Agency, Wedgewood, and Yorkshire Electricity. He is a is well-known on the conference circuit and is the author of five previous books including Smart Things to Know About Innovation and Unlock Your Mind.

Content / Structure



Prologue: What is Systems Thinking?

  • Systems Thinking is a Big Idea
  • So What is Systems Thinking About?
  • Connectedness
  • Why Systems Must be Studied as a Whole
  • The Systems Thinking Toolkit
  • The Benefits of Systems Thinking
  • How the Book Works


1 The Systems Perspective

  • Systems
  • Emergence and Self-Organisation
  • Feedback
  • Systems Thinking
  • On With Our Journey...

2 Carrying the Back Office Rock

  • The Story
  • The Context
  • The Issue
  • A Diagrammatic Representation
  • Enriching the Diagram
  • What Happens as a Consequence of Error?
  • A Nasty Vicious Circle
  • What Else Drives the Ability to Cope?
  • But What About Cost?
  • There's Still One Thing Missing...
  • Back to Wisdom

3 Quality, Creativity and Cutting Costs

  • The Story
  • The Context
  • The Picture
  • Another Nasty Vicious Circle
  • What Should We Do?
  • Who's Right?
  • Deciding Policy


4 Feedback Loops

  • The Central Role of Feedback Loops
  • Reinforcing Loops
  • Balancing Loops
  • Dangles, Boundaries and Real Systems
  • There Are Only Two Types of Link - the S and the O
  • Distinguishing Between Reinforcing Loops and Balancing Loops
  • The Two Fundamental Building Blocks
  • The Importance of Language
  • Are All Links `either an S or an O?
  • Fuzzy Variables
  • Ss and Os That Work in One Direction Only
  • A Final Thought

5 The engines of Growth - and Decline

  • Vicious and Virtuous Circles
  • Vicious and Virtuous Circles Really do Have the Same Structure
  • The Engine of Growth
  • Patterns of Growth
  • Exponental Growth Becomes Very Fast
  • Explicit and Implicit Dangles
  • Boom and Bust
  • Reinforcing Loops Can be Linked

6 Setting Targets, Seeking Goals

  • More on Balancing Loops
  • Balancing Loops in Business
  • Balancing Loops are Often Linked
  • Balancing Loops and Time Delays
  • what is the Definition of Variance?
  • Time to reflect

7 How to Draw Causal Loop Diagrams

  • Rule 1: Know Your Boundaries
  • Rule 2: Start Somewhere Interesting
  • Rule 3: Ask "What Does This Drive?" and "What is this Driven by?"
  • Rule 4: Don't Get Cluttered
  • Rule 5: Use Nouns, Not Verbs
  • Rule 6: Don't Use Terms Such as "Increase In" or "Decrease In"
  • Rule 7: Don't Be Afraid of Unusual Items
  • Rule 8: Do the Ss and the Os As You Go Along
  • Rule 9: Keep Going
  • Rule 10: A Good Diagram Must be Recognized as Real
  • Rule 11: Don't Fall in Love With Your Diagrams
  • Rule 12: No Diagram is Ever "Finished"


8 Stimulating Growth

  • In real Life, Exponental Growth Does Not Go On For Ever
  • Breaking Through the Constraints
  • The Growth of Urban Populations
    • The Context
    • the Dynamics of Population growth
    • Driving Economic Prosperity
    • Urban Growth Doesn't Go On for Ever
    • The Final Causal Loop Diagram
    • The Moral of this Story
  • Don't Pedal Harder, Take the Brakes Off


9 Decisions, Teamwork and Leadership

  • The Talent Problem
    • The senior Executive's Perspective
    • The Star's Perspective
    • The Perspective of the More Junior Staff
    • What is the Best Policy?
  • But That's All So Obvious, Isn't It?
  • Mental Models
  • Teamwork
  • Outsourcing, Partnering, and Cross-Boundary Conflict
    • How the World Looks to the Buyer
    • How the World Looks to the Contractor
    • Is There a Better Way?
    • The Systems Perspective

10 Levers, Outcomes and Strategy

  • Levers
  • Outcomes
  • How Are the Levers and the Outcomes Connected?
  • Levers, Outcomes, and Systems Thinking
  • Levers, Outcomes, and Loops
  • Connecting the Loops
  • The Last Link
  • What About the Other Levers?
  • A General Business Model
  • The Big Picture
  • Encouraging Ambition, Vision, and Imagination
  • How to be Creative
  • Back to Levers and Outcomes

11 Public Policy

  • Systems Thinking Also Applies to Matters of Public Policy
  • Back to Population
  • What Are the Consequences of economic Activity?
  • What is the Structure of this System and How Does it Behave?
  • Gaia
  • Global Warming
  • Liking the Loops Together
  • The Impact of Storms
  • The Four Horsemen Ride Again
  • This Goes Way Beyond Global Warming
  • What Should We Do?


12 Turbo-Charging Your Systems Thinking

  • System Dynamics
  • System Dynamics and Spreadsheets
  • Stocks and Flows
  • Stocks and Flows in Business
  • Two More Unifying Concepts
  • Causal Loop Diagrams and Plumbing Diagrams
  • Modelling in iThink

13 Modelling Business Growth

  • A Business example
  • Fuzzy Variables
  • Models for Ansqwers, Models for Learning
  • Managing the Marketing Mix
  • What Politics Would You Invoke to Optimize the Business?
  • Is the 80:20 Split the Best Deal?

Eiplogue: Complexity Tamed





Copyright Dennis Sherwood 2002


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