Linda Booth Sweeney


“Linda Booth Sweeney’s lens on systems education is at once serious and fun. She combines her interests in kinesthetic learning, research, and literature to make systems thinking appealing to both adults and children alike. Her approach is a breath of fresh air.”

Lees Stuntz,
Director of the Creative Learning Exchange

Thinking About Systems:

12 Living System Principles

There are living systems on all scales, from the smallest plankton to the human body to the planet as a whole. When we understand what constitutes a living system, we see that a family, a business, even a country are also living systems.

Here is a partial list of enduring understandings related to Living Systems:

Interdependence: A relationship in which each partner affects and often needs the other.

System Integrity: What a system has when all the parts and processes essential to its ability to function are present.

Biodiversity: the variety, complexity, and abundance of species that, if adequate, make ecosystems healthy and resilient.

Cooperation and Partnership: The continual process in which species exchange energy and resources.

Rightness of Size: The proportions of living systems–their bigness or smallness and their built-in limitations to growth–that influence a system’s stability and sustainability.

Living Cycles: A cycle is a circular process that repeats over and over, frequently returning to where it began. The water, lunar, sleep and other cycles sustain life, circulate resources, and provide opportunities for renewal.

Waste = Food: When waste from one system becomes food for another. All materials in nature are valuable, continuously circulating in closed loops of production, use, and recycling.

Feedback: Circular processes that create growth or decay by amplifying change (reiforcing feedback) or, foster stability by counteracting or lessening change (balancing feedback).

Nonlinearity: a type of behavior in which the effect is disproportionate from the cause.

Emergent Properties: Behavior that arises out of the interactions within a specific set of parts: the health of an ecosystem or a team’s performance, for example.

Flux: The continual movement of energy, matter and information that moves through living systems. Flux enables the living or “open” system to remain alive, flexible and ever-changing. The sun, for instance, provides a constant flux or flow of energy and resources that feeds all living organisms.

The Commons: Shared resources – such as air, water, land, highways, fisheries, energy, and minerals – on which we depend and for which we are all responsible.

Other key concepts related to living systems include: autopoesis, cognition and learning, networks, the first and second law of thermodynamics, stocks and flows, exponential growth, carrying capacity and ecological footprint.

12 Habits of Mind

example:waste=food The human approach to waste tends to be a straight line that looks like this: Take > Make > Waste. In nature, there is no such thing as waste. One species’ waste is another’s food; everybody is somebody’s lunch.


Whole-systems learning on-line? Join our community conversation on November 12. Hosted by the System Dynamics Society.



Talking with Kids About Exponential Growth During COVID-19



Young people are watching. They’re worrying. From climate change to our current pandemic, adults don’t seem to have the answers. How can we support young people to look to the other side of the hardship and disruption they're experiencing now, to feel confident that they can solve complex problems and innovate their way to healthier futures? Whole-systems learning - experiential opportunities to improve our ability to see, understand and work with interdependent systems -- may be one answer.