For one week out of every year, system dynamicists from across the globe leave their distinct environments to gather in one place. From the beginning, the conference has been a mechanism for the System Dynamics world to come together. The scale of international goodwill and cooperation have always been impressive. For me, the Society is like a mini United Nations. I have seen attendees from every continent and multiple nationalities standing in groups at a coffee break or sitting around banquet tables, speaking a common language. There is a powerful sense of diversity and cooperation present. And, when there has been strife in the world, I have seen our attendees still cooperate as they deal with common problems. We are an international community, open and diverse, with shared values and a framework for looking at the world.
The conference is the time when everyone present is totally immersed in System Dynamics. We get human-contact System Dynamics, we get to see it and hear it live and in person, interacting with each other in real time, acquiring wisdom, sharing knowledge and energy. This energy is made possible by collaboration, while people mix and mingle, make new connections and strengthen existing ones. I have seen students find mentors. I have seen conference serendipity reignite enthusiasm as new acquaintances share ideas, leaning forward with interest, while the conversation becomes intense. I have seen an attendee approach someone she admired and find a research collaborator—the conference is the place to reach the scholar whose paper you just read. I have seen hundreds of attendees sharpen their skills at workshops (many tell me it was the best part of the conference).
I find the experience invigorating – the give and take of new ideas, learning about the full range of new approaches in a new environment. We share the same space with the newest faces and the biggest names in System Dynamics. I have seen countless “selfies” taken – students with professors, groups of friends and so many people have had a photo op with Jay Forrester!
The day after the Tentative Schedule was online, a member called the office and happily said “When I read the program, I feel like a child having a long list of ice-cream flavors read to me.” We have been setting the stage, planning the conference for over two years. Then, the conference opening day arrives. Like magic, everyone shows up from all corners of the globe. Each year, I still find the appearance of hundreds of people quite amazing – people go to great lengths to attend, sometimes against all odds and with personal sacrifices. It really matters to be part of this very loyal community. Any problems there might have been getting to the conference are forgotten at the registration desk. Attendees greet each other by name and smile and the excitement is renewed. The design of the conference schedule is based on live events—symposiums, sessions, workshops, breaks and networking time to provide unique learning and sharing opportunities that just cannot be found anywhere else. Engaged in these events, I feel the pulse of the field.
There are big ideas presented at the conference that are deeply thought about; we bring it all together here. Researchers join forces, across disciplines, to present and demonstrate encouraging progress on new and old challenges that confront all of us. We search for answers to larger questions, look toward positive results in the future, while attendees strive to make a difference in the world.
Returning home and back to the office, I am always exhausted but I feel refreshed with the new ideas and suggestions to make the future conferences even better. I feel happy to have seen my worldwide circle of friends, colleagues, and new acquaintances. I feel like I have learned a lot. And, I always feel so lucky to be part of this magnificent community.
Speaking of lucky … I was very fortunate to have had lunch with Jay Forrester last month. We were talking about the Delft conference and next year’s conference which will be the 60th anniversary of the field. I asked Jay what he thought about celebrating 60 years. Please watch the video (transcribed below).
Well, the 60th anniversary is a remarkable milestone, it represents a good beginning for System Dynamics. Because we have probably much further yet to go than what we have accomplished so far. Initially we thought of the field as being Industrial Dynamics and our thoughts were limited to how it could be used in corporate policy. It took a while to realize that System Dynamics applied to everything that changes through time and that the social systems were an important part of the future of the field. Now, the future has opened up to include social dynamics, economics, and many other fields. On the other hand, there is an important future in the offing that I will call “Designing the Future.” It is a future that comes from establishing policies in our business and social systems that lead to better behavior than we have seen in the past.