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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

  • Luiz Marcos Ferreira Ribeiro

    Algumas pessoas são escolhidas para mudar a história da humanidade, Jay Wright Forrester era uma destas.
    Quando o Senhor Deus recolhe um destes escolhidos nós ficamos com o sentimento de um órfão.
    Um grande legado nos foi deixado por Jay Forrester, e eu fui um dos que tive minha vida transformada por uma de suas várias contribuições deixadas – System Dynamics.

    Lembro-me da alegria instaurada em todos nós quando entendemos seus fundamentos. Conseguimos, através destes, entender melhor como as organizações funcionam, por mais complexas que efetivamente eram, e assim trazer a consciência para os colaboradores destas empresas de qual seria o seu papel dentro do todo.

    Descanse em paz Forrester. Descanse junto a Deus e de seus escolhidos para nos trazer a luz da ciência.

    Luiz Marcos Ferreira Ribeiro

  • Jay W. Forrester inspired my scientific formation and research work and it was an honour to meet him in the system dynamics conference in New York. His huge and innovative work has contributed to the trans-disciplinary and integrative perspectives of present science in all domains. All of us will be grateful for his extraordinary contributions and constant support for a better linkage between science and present challenges of society and for providing a systemic perspective to new researchers.

  • Mirimo Daniel

    I’ve been introduced to the S.D methodology for my M.S research, the system thinking was really a new & insightful way to see & address real life challenges ( feedback loops, Iceberg diagram…).
    Thank you Prof Jay for your enormous contribution to this field, I wish I could have met you…
    RIP

  • Henry Ejimba

    As an African, I had this traditional belief that most things happen by chance and everything is controlled and determined by some supernatural forces. Philosophy opened my conception about the cause and effects mechanism in the world. I have always asked myself why are some continents progressing and others are not. My few years in Europe enlarged my worldview. How? Thanks to Jay Forrester who through his great work has inspired and motivated me a lot. System Dynamics has changed my operational thoughts and activities. Jay Forrester made me accept that system dynamics can be applicable to anything. Thanks to you dear Jay Forrester. You are an inventor, a model and an idol. I have always dreamt of meeting you in person but did not succeed. However, I feel your presence whenever I am before my laptop performing some activities with System Dynamics.

  • Brian Dangerfield

    Perhaps Jay’s greatest legacy are the early System Dynamics books he penned. You can return to these time and again and gain insights you had not appreciated before. Few scholars achieve such an endowment with their writing. That is why I too am still a student of SD.

  • Scott Rockart

    As a PhD student at MIT, I had the great pleasure of seeing Jay on many occasions. Jay joked about outliving his detractors, a joke tinged with sadness today. More importantly though, he noted seriously the need to repeat the things that people needed to know so that they would both hear and remember. I’ve very much taken that to heart. I’ve taught thousands of MBA students in my SD classes at London Business School, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I hope to teach thousands more. I truly believe that the world will be a better place as more and more people think in systems as Jay did so clearly. Thank you Jay, for bringing so much energy, vitality, and clarity to the systems perspective for us all.

  • Feng Xiwen

    It was a profound shock and sorrow that I learned of the death of Jay W. Forrester, I feel sorry and mourned for that Jay has died.
    The first time I met Jay was at the 19th International Conference on System Dynamics at the University of Atlanta in 2001, and I took a photograph with Jay. He was a kindly man. Jay gave me guidance in the System Dynamics which let me have a new breakthrough in the academic. He has had a great impact on my life and work in the last years.
    Jay W. Forrester was a pioneering computer engineer and systems scientist. He founded the System Dynamics what is good for us that we can tease the relationship of each part in the system more clearly and to find the root of the problem according to the feedback characteristics that internal elements are cause and effect in system. On the technical, the System Dynamics could solve the multiple factors, multiple feedback loop, and nonlinear complex system problems, it now for enterprise management and urban layout are of great help.
    His spirit is immortal!

    Feng Xiwen
    Professor of Shandong University of Science and Technology, China
    A member of the System Dynamics Society

  • Mike Reilly

    Always impressed with the quality and character of people who respected Professor Forrester
    for his extraordinary accomplishments and perspectives.
    Thank you Professor Forrester.

  • A true genius of our time. Jay Forrester established a field that is still not fully embraced in our world. Many of the issues that we face as a nation and world are a result of people including researchers taking a narrow approach and assigning causality to certain variables while ignoring others. By limiting our perspective, we arrive at so many conclusions that get reverted over time, sometimes even challenging the field of science. We would benefit greatly, if more people and leaders better understood the system that our life and planet belong to and the various interactions between them.

    I had the privilege and honor to spend some time with Jay when I was volunteering at the Orange Grove Middle School in Tucson, Arizona in the early nineties. He implanted the notion of the counter-intuitive nature of social systems into my blood stream. I live and breathe this belief system every day and I attribute it to Jay and Jim Waters of the Waters Foundation.

    While we grieve the loss of our founder, we should strive to inspire more people to adopt the field of Systems Thinking and Dynamics in their lives and make it a foundational discipline delivered to every child as part of their k-12 education.

    With deep gratitude and appreciation,

    Krishna

  • Bent Erik Bakken

    Having spent six years as a doctoral student in his System Dynamics group, there are so many things I could share about Jay. But above everything else stands his boldness and total disregard for political correctness to let truth prevail. This should be the staple of any academic. Sadly it is rare: on a tour to promote Urban Dynamics he argued the policies the study recommended. They were controversial. One academic then replied: I do not CARE if you are wrong or right. Your policy recommendations are unacceptable. I draw inspiration from this almost every day.