Solving Real Business Problems Using System Dynamics

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K-12 Students and Business People Learning Together

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Solving Real Business Problems using System Dynamics

Paul Newton

Original draft July, 1998
Revised draft in December, 1998

667 St. James Circle
Green Bay, WI 54311

paulnewton@ibm.net
920-465-1896

Table of Contents

Background and Problem Statement5
Solution Overview6
Solution Detail7
CSDM Education and High School Curriculum7
Student interest, pre-requisites, teaching, and assessment8 K-12 Teacher Participation in the High School Course9
Elementary and Middle School Program9
Full-time role for the CSDM10
Follow-up to the First Year of the Program10
Solution Benefits12
Potential concerns13
Capability of Students13
Adequacy of One Course15
Benefit to Businesses and Other Community Organizations18
Opportunity21
Vision22

Background and Problem Statement

"System dynamics is a method for studying the world around us."[1] That "world around us" consists of the various aspects of our home life, our work life, our school life, our community life, etc. System dynamics has proven its value for improving business performance[2], and there is a significant and increasing body of evidence that system dynamics can significantly improve the learning that takes place in K-12 education[3]. Further, many people believe that a society that is more 'systemic' in its thinking would be better able to address its environmental, social, and economic problems, whether they be home, community, county, state, national, or global.

Despite these advantages, it has been difficult for both the typical businessperson and the typical K-12 teacher to take advantage of system dynamics. I think this is primarily because becoming sufficiently fluent in system dynamics to use it effectively requires more time than most working adults can spare. Many businesses and teachers end up doing what they can by exploring and applying 'systems thinking'. Yet, Jay Forrester, the founder of the field of system dynamics in his paper, Learning through System Dynamics as Preparation for the 21st Century[4] writes,

"Systems thinking appears to be thinking about systems, talking about the characteristics of systems, acknowledging that systems are important, discussing some of the insights from systems archetypes, and relating the experiences people have with systems. …systems thinking has almost no chance of instilling the lessons that I have described. Systems thinking will change very few of the mental models that students will use in their future decision making. Systems thinking is no more than five percent of a systems education."

Other business people and teachers simply maintain the status quo and do nothing. If the problem is significant enough some businesses hire expensive system dynamics consultants on a problem by problem basis, or develop an internal system dynamics consulting organization.

So, we have available to us system dynamics, this powerful way of thinking that is useful both for learning in K-12 education and for improving business performance. Yet it is difficult for our communities to learn to apply this way of thinking due to the time constraints that business people and teachers face in their daily lives.

Solution Overview

I think we have a potential solution to this dilemma staring us in the face. Broadly, that solution resides in the K-12 students in our communities. Specifically the ingredients for the solution are:

1)at least one person dedicated to helping others master the use of system dynamics for learning and problem solving. Let's call this role the Community System Dynamics Mentor (CSDM). The CSDM may or may not be a teacher.

2)the availability of high school students interested in taking a system dynamics course one semester, followed by a second semester applying what they've learned...
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