prolems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when
we created them.
For as long as I can remember, I've been interested
in thinking. I started writing this book about thinking in 1961, worked on it
for fourteen years, and finally published it in 1975. Since that time, I've received
hundreds of letters and reviews of the book. Most of them confirm that the book
has helped readers improve their thinkingwhich delighted me. But, because
writing the book helped me with my thinking, I wasn't surprised.
a person who saves stuff. I couldn't find all the fine reviews this book got when
it first appeared twenty-five years ago, nor can I find all those letters. So,
I puzzled over how I was going to write this Preface.
Well, most thinking,
even general systems thinking, can sometimes use a little luck. I took a break
to download my e-mail, and as luck would have it, I got one of those flattering
letters, which read, in part:
My name is Wayne Johnson, and I am a veterenarian
working as a technical consultant in South China. . . . I discovered An Introduction
to General Systems Thinking quite by accident, or serendipitously, depending
upon one's point of view, about ten years ago, while looking for basic information
to assist me with my growth model project. I should tell you that was one of the
most influential books I have ever read. The first copy I finally had to return
to the university library, and after much difficulty I was able to convince some
bookseller to order me a copy of my own.
Over the years, I've never grown
tired of getting letters
- from halfway around the world (South China)
a professional in a field I never dreamed of influencing (veterinary medicine)
this book "was one of the most influential books I have ever read."
had, however, grown tired of the way this book had been handled in recent years.
Apparently, my original publisher's models didn't include books that stayed current
and in-demand for a quarter-century. As a result, a series of automatic cost-of-living
price increases had stuck the book with an unreasonably high price, and the reprinting
algorithms simply failed to keep the book in stockeven after more than twenty
printings. Used copies were sold at a premium, and my small reserve stock dwindled,
so I decided to gain control of the book and put it in the hands of a more understanding
publisher, Dorset House Publishing. This new printing is the result.
I set out to write An Introduction to General Systems Thinking, I had already
written a half-dozen books on thinkingbut all in the context of thinking
about computer programming. I had been doing this long enough to realize that
computer languages changed a whole lot faster than people changed, so I decided
to leave the programming language business to others and concentrate more on more
general principles of thinking. As a result, I first published The Psychology
of Computer Programming and then this book. Now, more than a generation later,
both books are still around, quietly doing their work. My work.
not many people have the experience of reading their own work a quarter-century
later, but now that I've done it twice, I find myself reflecting on what is different
after all this time:
- I was definitely younger then, or so it seems
now. At the same time, I felt rather mature and capable. I wonder if I'd have
the chutzpah to start on such ambitious works today.
- I know a great deal
more now, from many more experiences, but my deepest interests have not changed.
I'm still utterly fascinated by the human mind and its vast rainbow of possibilities.
haven't changed my conviction that most people don't think nearly as well as they
could had they been taught some principles of thinking.
- My writing style
has changed, and I find that some of my ancient words sound a bit quaint. For
example, since publishing these books, and prompted by some feedback from readers,
I have consciouly eliminated sexist language from my writing. I'm happy I did.
When I read authors who say that non-sexist language is too "awkward,"
I think that says more about them than they may wish to reveal.
- My recent
writing speaks more of "I" than of "we" or "it."
These are, after all, my thoughts, for better or worse, and I'm writing about
thinking and about thinkers. So, when these indirect forms hide the thinker beind
the thought, they do a disservice to my readers, who are, after all, interested
in the subject of thinking. I hope that current readers will forgive this folly
of my youthand perhaps gain some practice at seeing "the man behind
the curtain" of everyday thinking process.
- As a result of all these
years of consulting, I now know more about applying these general principles to
more specific situations, and I've tried to capture this knowledge in my books
about software management, systems analysis, problem definition, interpersonal
systems, consulting, and systems design.
I'm looking forward to seeing
how well these books hold up for another generation.