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Stocks, Flows, and Feedback loops

In system analysis, A stock is the foundation of any system. Stocks are the elements of the system that you can see, feel, count, or measure at any given time. A system stock is just what it sounds like: a store, a quantity, an accumulation of material or information that has built up over time

A stock is the memory of the history of changing flows within the system.

Stocks change over time through the actions of a flow.

If you understand the dynamics of stocks and flows—their behavior over time—you understand a good deal about the behavior of complex systems

A stock can be increased by decreasing its outflow rate as well as by increasing its inflow rate

In other words, if you see a behavior that persists over time, there is likely a mechanism creating that consistent behavior. That mechanism operates through a feedback loop. It is the consistent behavior pattern over a long period of time that is the first hint of the existence of a feedback loop

A feedback loop is a closed chain of causal connections from a stock, through a set of decisions or rules or physical laws or actions that are dependent on the level of the stock, and back again through a flow to change the stock.

Balancing feedback loops are equilibrating or goal-seeking structures in systems and are both sources of stability and sources of resistance to change

The second kind of feedback loop is amplifying, reinforcing, self-multiplying, snowballing—a vicious or virtuous circle that can cause healthy growth or runaway destruction



1. Meadows, D. H. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008).