Thriving in Chaos: An Introduction to Systems Thinking

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Wednesday, June 27, 2012 from 4:45 – 5:30pm in B302/303


For centuries we have learned to solve problems with a linear approach. This originated with Isaac Newton in the sevententh century and assumes that everything in the world is connected through cause and effect. Systems thinking throws away that assumption and examines the universe as small pieces connected into a complex network. You will learn how a systems thinking approach can be used to create robust groups that don't have leaders.


At the end of the 17th century when most people saw the world falling apart Isaac Newton had an idea that the universe was governed by a set of precise and mathematical laws which he called the clockwork universe. 300 years later this linear approach still dominates our thinking but starting in the 20th century a group of scientists started to chip away at the idea and form their own theories about the rules that governed the world. They called this systems thinking and believed that the universe consisted of independent nodes connected into a vast and complex network. We’ll review the history of systems thinking and discuss how you can use a systems thinking approach to create strong and robust groups that don’t have leaders.

We’ll discuss:

  • How Arthur Tansley’s dream of killing his wife led to the creation of the ecosystem movement
  • Jay Forrester’s belief that brains and cities lived in vast networks of feedback loops
  • John Nash’s game theory and the ideal strategy of iterated tit-for- tat
  • Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes created from highly connected but weak parts
  • Cellular Automata and Conway’s Game of Life
  • Zipf’s Law
  • Lorenz and Chaos Theory
  • Mandelbrot’s fractal geometry of nature
  • Metcalfs and Reed’s law
  • The edge of chaos and the idea that the most robust systems operate at the balance point between order and disorder

Speaking experience

I spoke at last years Open Source Bridge, Drupal Summit NW, and various Drupal, PHP, and Ruby meetups.