Jay Wright Forrester

American operations researcher
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Jay Wright Forrester (July 14, 1918 – November 16, 2016) was a pioneer American computer engineer, systems scientist and was a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Forrester is known as the founder of System Dynamics, which deals with the simulation of interactions between objects in dynamic systems.


  • Pestel was a very forceful person and quickly saw the power of system dynamics.
  • No plea about inadequacy of our understanding of the decision-making processes can excuse us from estimating decision making criteria. To omit a decision point is to deny its presence – a mistake of far greater magnitude than any errors in our best estimate of the process.
    • Forester (2000) "Perspectives on the modelling process" in: Modeling for Learning Organizations. John Douglas William Morecroft, ‎John Sterman eds. 2000. p. 66

Engineering Education and Engineering Practice in the Year 2000 (1967)Edit

Jay W. Forrester. "Engineering Education and Engineering Practice in the Year 2000." in: Engineering for the benefit of mankind: a symposium held at the third autumn meeting of the National Academy of Engineering. National Academy of Engineering, 1967/1970.

  • [The engineer] must identify the significant and critical problems, but in his education, problems have been predetermined and assigned. He must develop the judgment to know what solutions to problems are possible, but in school the problems encountered are known to have answers. He should be excited by new and unsolved challenges, but for 20 years he has lived in an educational system where he knows he is repeating the work of last year's students.
    • p. 134-135 as cited in: Ben. F. Barton (1981) The nature and treatment of professional engineering problems: The technical writing teacher's responsibility. p. 19
  • The enterprise engineer must be a leader, a designer, and a synthesizer. He is a doer. He understands theory as a guide to practice. He must concern himself with human organization because the pace and success of technology are becoming more dependent on interaction with the social system and less on scientific discovery. In private as well as public research and development, such men must find ways to reverse the deterioration of ethics and efficiency. They will strengthen the information links between physical design and the public so that technology can better serve society. In the public sector they must show the level of wisdom and leadership that can co-ordinate great engineering projects with politics. They will recognise that informing the public and becoming a nucleus for crystallising public opinion is even more important in many programmes than is the underlying science.
    • p. 137

Principles of Systems (1968)Edit

Forrester JW. 1968b. Principles of Systems. Pegasus Communications: Waltham, MA

  • In concept a feedback system is a closed system. Its dynamic behavior arises within its internal structure. Any action which is essential to the behavior of the mode being investigated must be included inside the system boundary.
  • Formulating a model of a system should start from the question “Where is the boundary, that encompasses the smallest number of components, within which the dynamic behavior under study is generated?”
    • p. 4-2; as cited in Richardson (2011)

Urban dynamics (1969)Edit

J.W. Forrester Urban dynamics. 1969

  • In complex systems cause and effect are often not closely related in either time or space. The structure of a complex system is not a simple feedback loop where one system state dominates the behavior. The complex system has a multiplicity of interacting feedback loops. Its internal rates of flow are controlled by nonlinear relationships. The complex system is of high order, meaning that there are many system states (or levels). It usually contains positive-feedback loops describing growth processes as well as negative, goal-seeking loops. In the complex system the cause of a difficulty may lie far back in time from the symptoms, or in a completely different and remote part of the system. In fact, causes are usually found, not in prior events, but in the structure and policies of the system.
    • p. 9

Quotes about Jay ForresterEdit

  • Professor Forrester told the National Academy of Engineering this fall, the "enterprise engineer," cast in the mold of the "professional engineer of folklore," is needed now more than ever before "to resynthesize the fragments caused by the specialization of other man".
    • Technology Review (1967) Vol. 70, p. 135
  • Mesarovic and Pestel are critical of the Forrester-Meadows world view, which is that of a homogeneous system with a fully predetermined evolution in time once the initial conditions are specified.
    • New Scientist. Vol. 66, nr. 947. May 1, 1975. p. 272

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