This post is written by Rolf Olsen, a participant in our Introduction to Dynamic Modeling with iThink and STELLA workshop held last month in Colorado Springs. We thought Rolf’s perspective would offer insights for those of you who are new to Systems Thinking or curious about applying dynamic modeling to real-world issues.
I was very excited about a last-minute chance to attend the introductory iThink/STELLA workshop, but to be honest, on the flight to Colorado Springs, I started to become apprehensive. Who was I trying to kid? Sure, I’d heard the terms “stock” and “flow” and I understood their roles as the nouns and verbs of the software. I’d even read a few chapters in Barry Richmond’s Introduction to Systems Thinking. But the first time I started up the software and stared at that blank workspace, I had no clue where to begin! Adding to my anguish, I was quite certain there would be others there who were much smarter than me and really knew what they were doing.
In college I spent most of my time and energy studying English and French, language, literature, cinema, art history, and so forth. I managed to avoid all higher math like the plague (although I did reasonably well in basic statistics). My engineer father often reminded me that my degree in Humanities prepared me for almost nothing. After college, I stumbled into a career in marketing – quite fertile territory for exploring system dynamics and modeling, as it turns out. I spent a few formative years in an ad agency and at a regional banking system, before finding my stride marketing and managing nonprofit arts and culture organizations. Today I work in marketing and communication in a large academic medical center.
For years I’ve used spreadsheets to model various ‘what if’ scenarios. In the arts, I used spreadsheets to create budgets and set ticket prices, always seeking ways to better predict revenue from ticket sales at different prices, for different types of performances (e.g., modern dance, string quartet, jazz ensemble), or on different days of the week.
Preparing for the iThink/STELLA workshop, I decided I’d like to try to model demand in a market area for laser vision correction surgery, popularly known as LASIK or PRK. That seemed simple enough. I might be able to bluff my way through this workshop after all!