Join getAbstract to access the summary!

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Join getAbstract to access the summary!

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

A Manager's Guide to Applying Systems Thinking

Nicholas Brealey Publishing,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Systems thinking agrees that the whole is greater than the parts, but you have to track how the parts affect the whole.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


This is an extraordinary, in the sense of out-of-the-ordinary, book. Flipping through it, you see page after page of loops and curves. At first, you might think it is a guide to drawing. And in a sense, it is. Most of the book explains how to use depictions of various types of loops to represent different kinds of business problems. Such problems never occur in isolation, because every business is a system, and everything that happens in a business has causes and effects that reach into other areas of the business and into the outside world. Author Dennis Sherwood is not peddling a simple notion, but rather is explaining "systems thinking," a method of analyzing systems and processes. unexpectedly found this quite entertaining, written with a light touch and bound to give almost any manager some new, valuable insights. On the down side, the author probably could have delivered his core message more succinctly, and after a while his insistence on demonstrating and categorizing the species and genera of loops begins to seem, well, a bit loopy.


Systems Thinking

A system consists of a number of entities that affect each other. To grasp the system as a whole, you have to understand the individual components and then go beyond them, to see how these components affect each other.

Unfortunately, people prefer not to bother with that. It’s much easier to examine, analyze and comprehend any individual component of a system than to understand how all of the components work together to enhance or frustrate each other. The natural human preference for the easy path rather than the hard one finds some intellectual reinforcement in standard scientific procedures. Laboratory experiments carefully control conditions to eliminate the effects of any variables or of any components except the one that is the object of the experiment. Economists also like to speak of ceteris paribus or "other things being equal." In fact, of course, all things are never really equal.

Because systems are dynamic, it is not possible to freeze them or dissect them. The frozen snapshot or dissected cross-section doesn’t work as a system. To comprehend a system, diagram the dynamic connections among its components in order to understand how...

About the Author

Dennis Sherwood is the author of seven previous books including Smart Things to Know about Innovation and Creativity and Unlock Your Mind. A former consulting partner with Deloitte Haskins & Sells and an Executive Director of Goldman Sachs, he is now Managing Director of The Silver Bullet Machine Manufacturing Company Limited.

Comment on this summary

More on this topic

Learners who read this summary also read

Related Channels