The Systems Letter by Barry Oshry

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Part Number:24
In this anniversary edition, with a new introduction and additional information and analyses, Barry Oshry continues to illuminate system life for all of us. The Systems Letter offers valuable insights for both the oppressors and the oppressed, and offers hope and inspiration to all those who feel diminished, dismissed, and disrespected by their organizations.


"A warning about the Systems Letter: Once you start, you will not be able to put it down. You will be reading the work of an organizational anarchist who understands systems better than anyone… Oshry's Letter is written to you and to me making it all the more personal and meaningful. And one final warning: On completion of your reading, to borrow a phrase from the Systems Letter, "the last traces of your innocence (regarding systems) will be gone”.

W. Warner Burke
Edward Lee Thorndike Professor of Psychology and Education
Teachers College, Columbia University 

"Barry Oshry is a pioneering systems thinker who has made seminal contributions to our understanding of how we affect and are affected by the social systems of which we are part. This booklet is brilliant, courageous, and immensely valuable."

Adam Kahane, Director, Reos Partners

“Barry is a true systems wizard, and The Systems Letter offers a unique glimpse of how he applied his own ideas in the messiness of real life.  It’s a captivating story and a powerful glimpse of a whole system from multiple angles, shared with remarkable humility, vulnerability, openness, and poignancy.”

Brian Robertson, Creator of Holacracy

Founder of HolacracyOne

Author, Holacracy: The New Management Systems for a Rapidly Changing World

"Oshry’s System Letter reminds us that regardless of how “enlightened” our organizations are, they are not immune to painful and costly dysfunction. The letter is a mix of righteous anger and cool systemic analysis in his attempt to speak truth to power. If you ever have been callously dismissed or diminished by an organization, you will find comfort and motivation in the Systems Letter."

Dr. Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge

Director, Quality & Equality


From Colleagues

“I have never read a book that better illustrates the razor-sharp clarity required to communicate to an entire organization system. It was literally thrilling to witness. A must read for anyone who cares about living a life of honesty and integrity."

Kevin Purcell, Cobden, IL, USA


“The Systems Letter is by far the most impactful of Barry's writing to date, and that is saying a lot.  There is a raw and authentic feel to the book, and many of the phrases and ideas rattle through my head on a daily basis.”

Douglas O’Loughlin, Singapore 

“An adrenaline pumping read. Rarely do I read a book in one go, but this can’t be put down.  There is power and strength in the raw vulnerability that comes through the letter… Reading the letter brought up powerful memories of the hurts and pain of my own organisational experiences and a sobering realisation of how I had most likely contributed to the pain and dissatisfaction of others.”

Alex Smith, Blenheim, New Zealand

"Approach the 'System Letter' as you would a seven-course gastro menu. Give yourself time to digest, reflect on and savour its rich passages… Through the particularity of events in Barry's life we recognize the universal pattern: the potent, uncertain mix of personal, interpersonal and systemic factors that shape our experience, sense-making and action/inaction. I loved the self-incriminating, wry humour peppered throughout the book, not just humorous but sharp observations on what might be happening. Recommended reading for anyone who wants to penetrate the depths of Oshry's work and appreciate more about the person behind it. "

John Watters, Brighton and Hove, UK

“The phrase “going to the balcony” comes to mind.  Leaders are encouraged to step back, go to the balcony and look at what’s happening more dispassionately. You went to the balcony with passion! That’s part of the challenge and reward of this book.”

Nancy Aronson, Malvern, PA, USA

Even with his depth of knowledge of how the system often determines our perceptions and feelings, Barry still falls prey to her clutches and shares his feelings and thoughts with such authenticity and rawness we cannot help but be moved. For those who know of Barry's work the book is a humbling experience, for those that are new to it, a never-ending thirst will be created to continually drink from this enlightening well of knowledge and potential"

Paul Mitchell, Sydney, Australia

“There are always things I don't get about the systems work but this book helped me understand the centrality of individuals to their systems, and the love of and passion for their systems and their ability to hurt you.  Ah, there is actually an alternate response past fight or flight: clarity.”

Susan Stewart, Allenspark, Colorado, USA

Reading this story and Barry's journey helped give me a deeper understanding of the worlds we find ourselves in and our own personal journey.  It is also an invitation to step towards our angst and away from it at the same time. In this particular time, this Letter to the System seems urgent.  What is our responsibility to get clear and make decisions based on our clarity?  The Letter is brave and courageous and invites us to be brave and courageous as well.”

Marsha Coleman, Philadelphia, PA, USA