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by Gerald M. Weinberg

Adapted from An Introduction to General Systems Thinking: Silver Anniversary Edition. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. See below for copyright notice.

The significant prolems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.

— Albert Einstein

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 thinking—which delighted me. But, because writing the book helped me with my thinking, I wasn't surprised.

I'm not 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)
  • from a professional in a field I never dreamed of influencing (veterinary medicine)
  • saying this book "was one of the most influential books I have ever read."

I 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 stock—even 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.

When I set out to write An Introduction to General Systems Thinking, I had already written a half-dozen books on thinking—but 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.

I suppose 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.
  • I 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 youth—and 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.

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COPYRIGHT NOTICE: This excerpt from An Introduction to General Systems Thinking: Silver Anniversary Edition [ISBN:0-932633-49-8] appears by permission of Dorset House Publishing. Copyright © 2001 by Gerald M. Weinberg. All rights reserved. See http://www.dorsethouse.com/books/gst.html. The material contained in this file may be shared for noncommercial purposes only, nonexclusively, provided that this Copyright Notice always appears with it. This material may not be combined with advertisements, online or in print, without explicit permission from Dorset House Publishing. For copies of the printed book or for permissions, contact Dorset House Publishing, 1-800-342-6657, 212-620-4053, http://www.dorsethouse.com, info@dorsethouse.com, New: 3143 Broadway, Suite 2B, New York, NY 10027 USA. Additional rights limitations apply, as presented in the Legal Disclaimer posted at http://www.dorsethouse.com/legal.html.



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