Systems & complexitySystems thinking and modelling

Web of wonder: Summary [Systems thinking & modelling series]

This is part 8 of a series of articles featuring the book Beyond Connecting the Dots, Modeling for Meaningful Results.


  • Models are simplified versions of the world around us.
  • We build models to help us understand and learn.
  • We build simple models and add to them as we learn with them.
  • Building models and learning is an iterative process.
  • We learn as we go and seldom do we get models right the first time.
  • Feedback Independent Growth, Exponential Growth (Reinforcing Feedback) and Goal Seeking (Balancing Feedback) structures are the basic building blocks for all models.
  • These building blocks can aid in understanding aspects of our interactions with the world around us.
  • Stock & Flow, Rich Picture, and Causal Loop models are only three of a very large array of possible modeling forms that exist. Use them to the extent that they serve you, and when they don’t, find a form that does.
  • Use a modeling form that adequately serves your quest for understanding.
  • Simulations are dynamic models that help us understand changes over time.
  • The Model Thinking course by Scott E. Page presents a very extensive exposure to many types of models useful for understanding different aspects of the world around us.

Rich Pictures

  • Often easier for others to relate to and understand because of the images in the model.
  • No rules for creating them, though remember that you need to tell a story.
  • Because you need to tell a story make the model as understandable as possible.

Causal Loop Diagrams

  • Specific Guidelines for how to depict the relationships between the elements.
  • Color coding relations is an alternative to the + and – notation, but be consistent.
  • Employing explicit stock representations often reduces misinterpretations.
  • Hybrid Rich Pictures/Causal Loop Diagrams are often the very meaningful.

Stock & Flow Simulations

  • The most explicit model form with well defined rules for construction that must be followed.
  • The dynamic nature allows you to compress or expand time and distance to see the implications of relations.

Construction Process

  • Use a process that suits you and the purpose you’re trying to achieve.


  • The guidelines are intended to help you develop better models.
  • Use the guidelines as a checklist.

Next edition: Developing understanding: Models 1-2.

Article sources: Beyond Connecting the Dots, Insight Maker. Reproduced by permission.

Header image source: Beyond Connecting the Dots.

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Scott Fortmann-Roe and Gene Bellinger

Scott Fortmann-Roe, creator of Insight Maker, and Gene Bellinger, creator of SystemsWiki, have written the innovative interactive book "Beyond Connecting the Dots" to demystify systems thinking and modelling.

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