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Jay Wright Forrester – founder of our field, leader, mentor, guide, and friend – 1918-2016. Born on Bastille Day, “but to my knowledge,” he once said recently, “the French haven’t taken any notice of it yet.” The System Dynamics community has had him in its midst since the late 1950s. We’ve heard his exhortations (and occasional scoldings) over these almost-60 years, and have grown as individuals and as a field from the examples he set for us. In the early years he struck fear in our hearts as we tried to meet his demands. In the later years we realized the warmth that lay under his drive for our perfection, and we are grateful for all of it.

Jay’s quotes are endlessly instructive. He was always challenging: “The solutions to small problems yield small results. … The most important problems are but little more difficult to handle than the unimportant.” He startled us: “The most important decision of the CEO is how to limit growth.” He saw a similar phenomenon in global dynamics: “Relying on technology to solve the problems created by growth is to evade the question of how to slow growth.” He insisted on an endogenous view: “We cause our own problems.” He always sought wise generalizations from his own model-based work: “Even if we manage to find a high leverage point in a complex system, we’re very likely to push the lever in the wrong direction.” He sought to improve practice in management science: “It’s false to assume that accuracy must be achieved before precision is useful.” In his enthusiasm he occasionally overreached: “Only System Dynamics modelers can talk for an hour without contradicting themselves.” (Just recently he moderated that: “Well, maybe twenty minutes.”) He had unwavering, quiet confidence, and urged us to have it too: “Have courage…”

Many of us have memories we cherish and want to share about Jay. This page is for us all. Write what you want others to see and hear. We will all gain from our memories of Jay.


113 comments

  • Karim Chichakly

    I was not very close to Jay, but every time we met or exchanged emails, he always encouraged me – and always provided a new viewpoint that expanded my understanding of a topic. I particularly remember a lunch together when he explained to me why protectionism was not a policy to avoid, but a useful and necessary lever (and one we should have pulled some time ago). We have lost a great man and I will miss his insights and conversation.

  • Brad Morrison

    Jay was a truly unique individual, one who accomplished so much and touched so many people. I was fortunate to have him as my teacher as a graduate student and to get to know him personally in the many years after that. I will never forget working with him to plan, organize, and then record the doctoral seminar series. It was quite something to hear him asking the camera men all about their analog and digital technology as he was preparing for his on camera role. He spoke in my class many times, and I recall one student saying “He is without a doubt the smartest man I ever met.” But, he brought more than his intellect to his work and his relationships. He was a man with deeply-rooted personal values and the courage to live by them. Thank you Jay for all you have brought to our world, and indeed to my world. May your influence last for as long a time horizon as you could have imagined.

  • Raafat Zaini

    Studying Jay’s work is something and seeing him talk is a totally different experience. Jay’s influence on me came to life by watching his video seminar series at MIT and other available videos on youtube. It is a transformational experience!

    On July 22, 2013, Jay, 95 then, sat down graciously in the lobby of Hyatt Hotel in Cambridge for a picture and signed my copy of his book Industrial Dynamics! He signed and wrote the date (M-D-Y) paying attention to the finest detail.

  • My life has developed without a personal relationship with Jay. The closest encounter was during the talent show at the banquet of the 50 years celebration at the 2007 conference, when I was to play a composition on guitar and needed the background music from a CD stuck in the computer on the stage, and it just would not work. In midst of the attendees staring at me and waiting what would happen now, Jay said: “well, at the MIT there should be someone who can fix that computer”. Laughter. Relax, and then I just improvised a piece without the background. Not a very SDish thing, but facing adverse circumstances with an optimistic word is an admirable attitude, and I have not forgotten that moment.

    I’ve also admired the fact that Jay invested so much time and effort in education over the past decades – in a society mainly consisting of engineers and business people. Personally I think in doing so, he acted as a guide climbing up a maintain – even if not many would follow him up that particular hill. To help children develop and unfold their potential feels like the noblest of tasks to me, and I am grateful for this stubbornness to go and do what you believe is important (never mind the borders of academic disciplines).

    Some pople feel like friends even without a personal one-on-one relationship.

  • One morning while at the 2000 CLE Conference in Portland, my wife and I had breakfast with Jay and Susan, and I mentioned my interest in becoming a student again—a student of system dynamics. He said he was still a student of SD. Two years later, at the age of 54, I became a PhD student at the University of Bergen.

  • Ozge Pala

    Jay Forrester’s work has influenced my life profoundly; it changed the way I look at the world, helped me see connections I would not have seen otherwise. I feel very lucky that I came across his work early in life. I remember how fascinated I was when I read Principles of Systems at the age of 20… I hope many more people will be fascinated at even earlier ages and grow to tackle the important issues our world is facing at the moment. That would be the greatest way to honor Jay Forrester’s legacy.

  • Etiënne Rouwette

    To understand complex issues at a fundamental level, so that we can make progress in problems that are of real importance to many people: if I had to summarise the aim of the field that Jay Forrester created in one sentence, it would be this. What more important goal can you think of. I am glad to have come into contact with system dynamics and grateful to Jay Forrester for making this possible. He set very high aims and I hope we can continue to work towards them.

  • Len Malczynski

    Jay had a profound effect on my professional life, he changed its direction. I recall him telling me to keep practicing and have courage, two things which he always did. Thank you Jay Forrester.

  • Bob Eberlein

    Jay was a remarkable teacher, mentor and inspiration. It was my privilege to know Jay from my early days as a graduate student through to today. He leaves a remarkable legacy, but it was his humility and appreciation for the work of others that have touched me the most over the past year.

  • Eliot Rich

    The work of Jay Forrester changed my life direction, quite literally. I am deeply grateful for his work and his insights.