Systems scientist
Cornell Institute for Public Affairs


Derek Cabrera (PhD, Cornell) is a systems scientist, inventor, and social entrepreneur and is internationally known for his work in systems thinking, systems leadership, and systems modeling. He is currently visiting faculty at Cornell University where he teaches systems thinking and organizational leadership and design. He is senior scientist at Cabrera Research Lab, and Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer of Plectica. He has given two TED Talks, written and produced a rap song, a children’s book on cognition, and authored numerous book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles. His research has been profiled in peer-reviewed journals, trade magazines, and popular publications, and he is author of eight books including, Systems Thinking Made Simple: New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems (winner of the 2017 AECT outstanding book award), Thinking at Every Desk: Four Simple Skills to Transform Your Classroom, and Flock Not Clock: Design, Align, and Lead to Achieve Your Vision. Credited with discovering the underlying rules of systems thinking, Cabrera is co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of Systems Thinking. His work in public schools was documented in the full-length documentary film, RE:Thinking. He was Research Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) for the Study of Complex Systems and National Science Foundation IGERT Fellow in Nonlinear Systems in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics at Cornell University. As a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow, he developed new techniques to model systems approaches in the evaluation of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Cabrera was awarded the Association of American Colleges and Universities' K. Patricia Cross Future Educational Leaders Award. He serves on the United States Military Academy at West Point’s Systems Engineering Advisory Board. His contributions to the field of systems thinking have been integrated into NSF, NIH, and USDA-NIFA programs, K-12, higher education, NGOs, federal agencies, corporations, and business schools. His systems models are used by many of Silicon Valley’s most innovative companies. Systems Thinking Made Simple is used as an introductory text for undergraduate and graduate students in numerous colleges and universities including Cornell University and West Point Military Academy. Cabrera has developed and patented a suite of systems thinking tools for use in academia, business, and beyond. Prior to becoming a scientist, Cabrera worked for fifteen years around the world as a mountain guide and experiential educator for Outward Bound and other organizations and has climbed many of the world’s highest mountains. He holds a PhD from Cornell University and lives in Ithaca, NY, with his wife, Laura Cabrera, three children, and three dogs.

View all people