thinking in systems
[intro’d to Dana a few years back via Sandy]
donella meadows: ‘lets’ face it, the universe is messy. it is nonlinear, turbulent and chaotic. it is dynamic. it spends its time in transient behaviour on its way to somewhere else, not in mathematically neat equilibria. it self orgs and evolves. it creates diversity, not uniformity. that’s what makes the world interesting, that’s what makes it beautiful and that’s what makes it work.. t
donella meadows: learn to find the ‘leverage points’.. those place in a complex system where making a small change in one thing can lead to a big chance in everything.. she believed that most economists spend too much time tweaking low leverage points, such as adjusting prices (which merely alters the rate of flow).. when they could have far greater leverage thru rebalancing the economy’s feedback loops, or eve by changing its goal (ie: gdp)..
imagine if we let go of money/measuring.. image the leverage there.. if we focus on simply 2 things .. the big (ginormous/small) change would/could be 7 bn alive people.. let’s rebalance that feedback loop
donella: don’t be an unthinking intervenor and destroy the system’s own self maintenance capacities.. before you charge in to make things better, pay attention to the value of what’s already there..t
meadows was a skilled economic gardener in this sense, having spent much of her life watching the dance of social ecological systems in action and observing the value of what was already there… she noted, effective systems tend to have three properties: healthy hierarchy, self org and resilience.. and so should be stewarded to enable these characteristics to emerge
first, healthy hierarchy is achieved when nested system serve the greater whole of which they are a part.. liver cells server the liver, which in turns serves the human body; if those cells start to multiplying rapidly , the become a cancer, no longer serving but destroying the body on which they depend..
in economic terms, healthy hierarchy means, for ie, ensuring that the financial sector is in service to the productive economy, which in turn is in service to life..t
financial ness.. is already a mis copied rna.. already cancer..
this is not organism as fractal
note from author (donella meadows 1941-2001)
my particular teachers/thinkers (includes): peter senge, gregory bateson, albert eisntein, garrett hardin, ef schumancker.. natives americans.. sufis of middle east..
strange bedfellows, but systems thinking transcends disciplines and cultures and, when it is done right, it overarches history as well..t
note from editor (diana wright 2008)
dana was.. one of best communicators in the world of systems modeling..
dana helped usher in the notion that we have to make a major shift in the way we view the world and its systems in order to correct our course.. t.. systems, big or small, can behave in similar ways, and understanding those ways is perhaps our best hope for making lasting change on many levels.. dana was writing this book to bring that concept to a wider audience..
in all aspects of her work, she was immersed in the events of the day. she understood those events to be the outward behavior of often complex systems..
once you start to see the events of the day as parts of trends, and those trends as symptoms of underlying system structure, you will be able to consider new ways to manage and new ways to live in a world of complex systems..
a simple book for and about a complex world.. for those who want to shape a better future..
intro: the system lens
the answer clearly lies w/in the slinky itself (what makes it bounce up and down).. the hands that manipulate it suppress or release some behavior that is latent w/in the structure of the spring. that is a central insight of systems theory..
once we see the relationship between structure and behavior, we can begin to understand how systems work, what makes them produce poor results, and how to shift them into better behavior patterns
(systems thinking) a way of thinking that gives us the freedom to identify root causes of problems and see new opportunities..t
a system is a set of things – people, cells, molecules, or whatever – interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior over time..
the system to a large extent causes its own behavior.. and outside event may unleash that behavior, but the same outside event applied to a diff system is likely to produce a diff result..
think about the implications of that idea:
on the one hand, we have been taught to analyze, to use our rational ability , to trace direct paths from cause to effect, to look at things in small and understandable pieces, to solve problems by acting on or controlling the world around us. that training, the source of much personal and societal power, leads us to see presidents, and competitors, opec and the flu and drugs as the causes of our problems.
on the other hand, long before we were educated in rational analysis, we all dealt w complex systems. we are complex systems.. our own bodies are magnificent ie’s of integrated, interconnected, self-maintaining complexity. .. we have built up intuitively .. w/o analysis.. often w/o words, a practical understanding of how these systems work, and how to work w them..t
already in us
modern systems theory, bound up w computers and equations hides the fact that it traffics in truths known at some level by everyone it is often possible, therefore, to make a direct translation from systems jargon to traditional wisdom
ever since the industrial revolution, western society has benefited form science, logic, and reductionism over intuition and holism. psychologically and politically we would much rather assume that the cause of a problem is ‘out there’ rather than ‘in here’.. it ‘s almost irresistible to blame something or someone else, to shift responsibility away from ourselves, and to look for the control knob, the product, the pill, the technical fix that will make a problem go away..
serious problems have been solved by focusing on external agents – preventing smallpox, increasing food production, moving large weights and many people rapidly over long distances. because they are embedded in larger systems, however, some of our ‘solutions’ have created further problems..t.. and some problems, those most rooted in the internal structure of complex systems, the real messes, have refused to go away..
hunger, poverty, environ degradation, econ instability, unemployment, chronic disease, drug addiction, and war, for ie, persist in spite of the analytical ability and technical brilliance that have been directed toward eradication them.. no on deliberately creates those problems, no one wants them to persist, but they persist nonetheless.. that is because they are intrinsically systems problems – undesirable behaviors characteristic of the system structure that produce them..they will yield only as we reclaim our intuition, stop casting blame, see the system as the source of its own problems, and find the courage and wisdom to restructure it..t
whoa.. she is good..
cast first stone ness
let’s find what’s already in us.. as infra..
this book is about that diff way of seeing/thinking..
i have made liberal use of diagrams and time graphs in this book because there is a problem in discussing systems only w words..t..words and sentence must, by necessity, come only one at a time in linear, logical order. systems happen all at once.. they are connected not just in one direction, but in may directions simultaneously.. to discuss them properly, it is necessary somehow to use a language that shares some of the same properties as the phenom under discussion..t
pictures worked for this language better than words.. because you can see all the parts of a picture at once..
i’ll talk about how and why systems work so beautifully and the reason why they so often surprise and confound us.. i’ll talk about why everyone or everything in a system can act dutifully and rationally, yet all these well-meaning actions too often add up to a perfectly terrible result..
that discussion will lead to us to look at the common problems that the systems thinking community has stumbled upon over and over.. thru working in corporations and govts, economies and ecosystems, physiology and psychology. ‘there’s another case of the tragedy of the commons’.. we find our selves saying as we look at an allocation system for sharing water resource among communities…. or financial resources among schools.. or we id ‘eroding goals’ as we study the business rules and incentive that help or hinder the development of new techs.. or we see ‘policy resistance’ as we examine decision-making power and the nature of relationship in a family, a community, or a nation. or we witness ‘addiction’ which can be caused by many more agents than caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and narcotics..
the systems thinking lens allows us to reclaim our intuition about whole systems..t and: hone our abilities to understand parts; see interconnections; ask ‘what if questions about possible future behaviors; and be creative and courageous about system redesign
the behavior of a system cannot be known just by knowing the elements of which the system is made..t.. (blind men and elephant)..
part 1 – system structure and behavior
1 – the basics
a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function/purpose..
ie’s: digestive system; football team; school; city; factory; corporation; national econ; animal; tree; forest; earth; solar system; galaxy. system scan be embedded in systems, which are embedded in yet other systems..
is there anything that is not a system? yes – a conglomeration w/o any particular interconnections or function.. ie: sand scattered on road.. you can add sand or take away sand ad you still have just sand on the road.. arbitrarily add or take away football players or pieces of your digestive system, and you quickly no longer have the same system..
some say old city neighborhood is social system.. and that a new apt block full of strangers is not.. until new relationships arise and a system forms..
systems can be self org ing and often are self repairing over at least some range of disruptions… out of one system other completely new, ever before imagined systems can arise..
the elements of a system are often the easiest parts to notice, because many of them are visible, tangible things. ..
intangibles are also elements of a system.. once you start listing elements of a system.. there is almost no end to the process… sub sub elements.. before going too far in that direction, it’s a good idea to stop dissecting out elements and to start looking fo the interconnections, the relationships that hold the elements together.
it’s easier to learn about a system’s elements than about its interconnections..
if info based relationships are hard to see, functions or purposes are even harder.. a system’s function/purpose is not necessarily spoken, written, or expressed explicitly, except thru the operation of the system. the best way to deduce the system’s purpose is to watch for while to see how the system behaves..t
if govt proclaimed its interest in protecting the environ but allocates little money or effort toward that goal, environ protection is not, in fact, the govt’s purpose.. purposes are deduced from behavior, not from rhetoric or stated goals..
the word function is generally used for a nonhuman system, the word purpose for a human one.. but the distinction is not absolute.. since so many systems have both human and non human elements..
you can understand the relative importance of a system’s elements, interconnections and purposes by imagining them changed one by one..
changing elements usually has least effect on the system.. a system generally goes on being itself, changing only slowly if at all, even w complete substitutions of its elements – as long as its interconnections and purposes remain intact.. ie: body replaces most of its cells every few weeks.. but keeps on being your body
in the interconnections change, ie: change rules of game.. the system may be greatly altered.. may even become unrecognizable..
changes in function/purpose also can be drastic.. ie: from wining to losing
to ask whether elements, interconnections, or purposes are most important in a system is to ask an unsystemic question.. all are essential.. all interact.. all have their roles.. but the least obvious part of the system, its function/purpose, is often the most crucial determinant of the system’s behavior.. interconnections are also critically important.. changing relationships usually changes system behavior.. the elements.. the parts of systems we are most likely to notice, are often (not always) least important in defining the unique characteristics of the system –
a stock is the foundation of any system. stocks are the elements of he system that you can see, feel, count, or measure at any given time..
stocks change over time thru the actions of a flow
if you understand the dynamics of stock and flows – their behavior over time – you understand a good deal about the behavior of complex systems..
intro was great.. now getting to un organic (esp money) system heavy.. perhaps why i didn’t add page back in sandy day
a stock takes time to change, because flows take time to flow.. that’s a vital point, a key to understanding why systems behave as they do..
the most common ‘non feedback decisions student suggest are falling in love and committing suicide. i’ll let it to you to decide.. if no feedback involved..
if you see feedback loops everywhere.. you’re already in danger of becoming a systems thinker..
you’ll be thinking not in terms of a static world but a dynamic one. you’ll stop looking for who’s to blame; instead you’ll start asking ‘what’s the system’..t.. the concept of feedback opens up the idea that a system can cause its own behavior
cast stone ness
2 – a brief visit to the systems zoo
all about store inventory, car dealers, bath tub water, furnace, money stocks, bank account ..
any physical, growing system is going to run into some kind of constraint, sooner or later.. that constraint will take the form of a balancing loop that in some way shifts the dominance of the reinforcing loop driving the growth behavior, either by strengthening the outflow or by weakening the inflow
growth in a constrained environ is very common, so common that systems thinkers call it the ‘limits to growth’ archetype
extractions and capital and production peaks
even a fishery.. only seen thru lens of price
part 2 – systems and us
3 – why systems work so well
this distinction between static stability and resilience is important. static stability is something you can see; it’s measured by variation in the condition of a system week by week or year by year. resilience is something that may be very hard to see, unless you exceed its limits, overwhelm and damage the balancing loops and the system structure breaks down… because resilience may not be obvious w/o a whole system view, people often sacrifice resilience for stability or for productivity or for some other more immediately recognizable system property..t
i think of resilience as a plateau upon which the system can play, performing its normal functions in safety..
in much of what she writes.. resilience sounds great.. but many ie’s are of monetary base..
loss of resilience can some as a surprise, because the system usually is paying much more attention to its play than to its playing space.. one day it does something it has done a hundred times before and crashes
this statement makes the diff between resilience and antifragility more clear.. as antifragility gains from disorder (however.. i’m afraid taleb’s ie’s are too money based for the change we need/crave as well)
the most marvelous characteristic of some complex systems is their ability to learn, diversity, complexify, evolve..
this capacity of a system to make its own structure more complex is called self org..
self org is such a common property, particularly of living systems, that we take it for granted. if we didn’t, we would be dazzled by the unfolding systems of our world. and ..
if we weren’t nearly blind to the property of self org, we would do better at encouraging, rather than destroying, the self-organizing capacities of the systems of which we are a part..t
like resilience, self org is often sacrificed for purposes of short term productivity and stability.. productivity and stability are the usual excuses for turning creative human beings into mechanical adjuncts to production processes. or for narrowing the genetic variability of crop plants.. or for establishing bureaucracies and theories of knowledge that treat people as if they were only numbers..t
self org produces heterogeneity and unpredictability. it is likely to come up w whole new structures, whole new ways of doing things.. it requires freedom and experimentation, and a certain amount of disorder..t
these conditions that encourage self org often can be scary for individual and threatening to power structures..t.. as a consequence ed systems may restrict he creative powers of children instead of stimulating those powers. economic policies may lean toward supporting established, powerful enterprise rather than upstart new ones.. and many govts prefer their people not to be too self organizing..
fortunately, self org is such a basic property of living systems that even the most overbearing power structure can never fully kill it, although in the name of law and order, self org can be suppressed for long, barren, cruel, boring periods..
science knows now that self organizing system can arise from simple rules.. science, itself a self organizing system, likes to think that all the complexity of the world must arise, ultimately , from simple rules.. whether that actually happen is something that science does not yet know..
in the process of creating new structure and increasing complexity, one thing that a self org ing system often generates is hierarchy..t
subsystems.. a cell in your liver is a subsystem of an organ, which is a subsystem of you as an organism, and you are a subsystem of a family.. et al… this arrangement of systems and subsystems is called a hierarchy..
if subsystems can largely take care of themselves, regulate themselves, maintain themselves, and yet serve the needs of the larger system, while the larger system coordinates and enhances the functioning of the subsystems, a stable, resilient, and efficient structure results..
complex systems can evolve from simple systems only if there are stable intermediate forms. the resulting complex forms will naturally be hierarchic.. that my explain why hierarchies are so common in the systems nature presents to us..among all possible complex forms, hierarchies are the only ones that have had the time to evolve..
art ist bot ist ness
hierarchies are brilliant systems inventions, not only because they give a system stability and resilience, but also because they reduce the amount of info that any part of the system has to keep track of..
in hierarchical systems relationship w/in each subsystem are denser and stronger than relationships between subsystems.. everything is still connected to everything else, but not equally strongly.. no level is overwhelmed w info..
hierarchies evolve from the lowest level up.. t..from the pieces to the whole, from cell to organ to organism.. from individual to team.. the original purpose of a hierarchy is always to help its originating subsystem do their jobs better.. this is something unfortunately that both the higher and the lower levels of a greatly articulated hierarchy easily can forget.. therefore, many systems are not meeting our goals because of malfunctioning hierarchies..t
when a subsystem’s goals dominate at the expense of the total system’s goals the resulting behavior is call suboptimization..
just as damaging as suboptimization, of course, is the problem of too much central control.. if the brain controlled each cell so tightly that the cell could not perform its self maintenance functions, the whole org could die..t
to be a highly functional system, hierarchy must balance the welfare, freedoms, and responsibilities of the subsystems and total system.. there must be enough central control to achieve coordination toward the large system goal, and enough autonomy to keep all subsystems flourishing, functioning and self organising..
resilience, self org, and hierarchy are three of the reasons dynamic systems can work so well..
4 – why systems surprise us
everything we think we know about the world is a model. every word and every language is a model. all maps and stats, books and databases, equations and computer programs are models.. so are the ways i picture the world in my head – my mental models.. none of these is or ever will be the real world..t
our models fall far short of representing the world fully. that is why we make mistakes and why awe are regularly surprised.. in our head, we can keep track of only a few variables at one time. we often draw illogical conclusions from accurate assumption or logical conclusions from inaccurate assumptions..
our knowledge is amazing; our ignorance even more so..t
you can’t navigate well in an interconnected, feedback-dominated world unless you take your eyes off short term events and looks for long term behavior and structure; unless you are aware of false boundaries and bounded rationality; unless you take into account limiting factors, nonlinearities and delays. you are likely to mistreat, misdesign or misread systems if you don’t respect their properties of resilience, self organization and hierarchy..
the bad/good news.. depending on your need to control the world and your willingness to be delighted by its surprises.. is that even if you do understand all these system characteristics, you may be surprised less often, but you will still be surprised..
systems fool us by presenting themselves – or we fool ourselves by seeing the world – as a series of events..t
the way of seeing the world has almost no predictive or explanatory value.. like the tip of an iceberg risking above the water, events are the most visible aspect of a larger complex – but not always the most important..t
when a systems thinker encounters a problem, the first thing he/she does is look for data, time graphs, the history of the system.. that’s because long term behavior provides clues to the underlying system structure.. and structure is the key to understanding not just what is happening and why
ie’s of predicting stock market (when convos are mostly event-event).. and economic analysis.. as going one level deeper.. to behavior over time.. trends in income/savings/investment/ govt spending. interest rates..
these behavior based models are more useful than event based ones.. but still have fundamental problems. first.. they typically overemphasize system flows and underemphasize stocks.. economists follow the behavior of flows..
or perhaps fundamental problems are that we are using systems model for something manufactured
nonlinearities are important not only because they confound our expectations about the relationship between action and response. they are even more important because they change the relative strengths of feedback loops.. they can flip a system from one mode of behavior to another..
garrett hardin: when we think in terms of systems, we see that a fundamental misconception is embedded in the popular term ‘side-effects’ this phrase means roughly ‘effects which i hadn’t foreseen or don’t want to think about’ side effects no more deserve the adjective ‘side’ than does the ‘principal’ effect. it is hard to think in term of systems and we eagerly warp our language to protect ourselves from the necessity of doing so..
? not sure what this implies.. hard to imagine someone getting systems thinking and also suggesting tragedy of the commons…? to me.. not getting to the core of the infra of a person.. just going off symptoms of a broken feedback loop..
systems rarely have real boundaries.. everything is connected to everything else and not neatly.. there are only boundaries of word, thought, perception, and social agreement – artificial mental-model boundaries..
the greatest complexities arise exactly at boundaries.. there are czechs on the german side of the border and germans on the czech side of the border.. disorderly, mixed up borders are sources of diversity and creativity..
if we’re to understand anything, we have to simplify, which means we have to make boundaries.. often that’s a safe thing to do..
the lesson of boundaries is hard even for systems thinkers to get. there is no single, legitimate boundary to draw around a system. we have to invent boundaries for clarity and sanity; and boundaries can produce problems when we forget that we’ve artificially created them..t
there are no separate systems. the world is a continuum. where to draw a boundary around a system depends on the purpose of the discussion – the questions we want to ask..
park boundaries around the world are regularly crossed by nomadic peoples, by migrating wildlife, by waters that flow into our of or under the park, by the effects of economic development at the park’s edges, by acid rain, and not by a climate changing from greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
it’s a great art to remember that boundaries are of our own making, and that they can and should be reconsidered for each new discussion, problem or purpose.. it’s a challenge to stay creative enough to drop the boundaries that worked for the last problem and to find the most appropriate set of boundaries for the next question. it’s also a necessity, if problems are to be solved well..
we rarely see the full range of possibilities before us.. so instead of finding a long term optimum, we discover w/in our limited purview a choice we can live w for now.. and we stick to it,.. change our behavior only when forced to
adam smith: econ theory assumes that 1\ homo economicus acts w perfect optimality on complete info, and 2\ that when many of the specifics do that.. their actions add up to best possible outcome for everybody
neither of these assumption stands up long against the evidence
well.. not saying adam smith for the win.. but am suggesting our evidence is not deep enough.. so.. not evidence.. i do belive if everyone is listening to their heart deep enough.. everyday.. that they are taking in complete enough info.. to be their eudaimonia.. and because of our interconnectedness.. we get eudaimoniative surplus
in next chapter i will describe some of the most commonly encountered structures that can cause bounded rationality to lead to disaster. they include : addiction, policy resistance, arms races, drift to low performance, and the tragedy of the commons..
should be good..
experiments w students to help them see narrow ness of current viewpoint.. ie: even stanford prison experiment
seeing how individual decision are rational w/i the bounds of the info available does not provide an excuse for narrow-minded behavior. it provides an understanding of why that behavior arises.. w/in the bounds of what a person in that part of the system can see and know, the behavior is reasonable.. taking out one individual from a position of bounded rationality and putting in another person is not likely to make much diff. blaming the individual rarely helps create a more
change comes first from stepping outside the limited info that can be seen from any single place in the system and getting an overview..
it’s amazing how quickly and easily behavior changes can come, w even slight enlargement of bounded rationality, by providing better, more complete, timelier info
under ordinary circumstances, your liver gets just the info it needs to do its job.
in undisturbed ecosystems and traditional cultures, the average individual, species, or population, left to its own devices, behaves in ways that serve and stabilize the whole..t
we just have to re undisturb ourselves.. and then trust us
these system and others are self regulatory.. they do not cause problems.. we don’t have govt agencies and dozens of failed policies about them..
since adam smith, it has been widely believed that the free, competitive market is one of these properly structured self regulating systems.. in some ways it is .. in other ways, obvious to anyone who is willing to look. it isn’t..
it hugely isn’t.. huge because of its subtly.. our blindness from it.. we’ve been looking from that perspective for so long..
what makes a diff is redesigning the system to improve the info, incentives, disincentives, goals, stresses, and constraints that have an effect on specific actors
rather.. redesign to make all those irrelevant.. aka: make the system undisturbed.. ie: thinking we need incentives.. goals.. is a disturbance of the dance (eudaimonia) et al..
this is huge..
5 – system traps and opportunities
the most effective way of dealing w policy resistance is to find a way of aligning the various goals of the subsystems, usually by providing an overarching goal that allows all actors to break out of their bounded rationality. if every one can work harmoniously toward the same outcome if all feedback loops are serving the same goal), the results can be amazing..t
the way out: let go.
bring in all the actors and use the energy formerly expended on resistance to seek out mutually satisfactory ways for all goals to be realized – or redefinitions of larger and more important goals that everyone can pull toward together..
(on tragedy of the commons as hardin describes it via pasture open to all): the individual herdsman has no reason, no incentive, no strong feedback, to let the possibility of overgrazing stop him from adding another cow to the common pasture. to the contrary , he or she has everything to gain.
that to me would be a sign that the herdsman (and thus the ecosystem) has already been disturbed.. if people need incentive to not overdo/whatever.. their internal feedback must be out of wack.. ie: hunter gatherers thought it ridiculous when people took brought back too much game
the tragedy of the commons arises from missing (or too long delayed) feedback from the resource to the growth of the users of that resource..
if the users follow the bounded rationality of the commons (there’s no reason for me to be the one to limit my cows), there is not reason for any of them to decrease their use..
if users claim/follow some bounded rationality of the commons.. that’s a red flag the ecosystem is disturbed..
surely, you’d think, no group of people would be so shortsighted as to destroy their commons. but consider just a few commonplace ie’s of commons that are being driven or have been driven to disaster..
these ie’s.. any ie’s.. were not commons to begin with.. they were all already disturbed ecosystems..
ie: if every family can have any number of children it wants, but society as a whole has to support the cost of ed, health, environ.. the number of children born can exceed the capacity of the society (this is the ie that caused hardin to write his article)
see.. money is a disturber of the ecosystem.. ed is a disturber of the ecosystem.. (and/or they are symptoms of already been disturbed ecosystem)
dang.. learn so much from people.. then (it seems) they don’t follow/hear what they themselves said.. (where am i doing that..?)
the structure of a commons system makes selfish behavior much more convenient and profitable than behavior that is responsible to the whole community and to the future..
ways to avoid tragedy of the commons:
1\educate and exhort.. help people see consequences o unrestrained use of commons.. appeal to morality.. persuade them to be temperate.. threaten transgressors w social disapproval or eternal hellfire
dang.. the flag is so red..
2\ privatize the commons.. divide it up.. if some people lack self control
2\ regulate the commons.. hardin calls this option.. ‘mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon’.. regulation can take many forms, from outright bans on certain behavior to quotas, permits, taxes, incentives. to be effective, regulation must be enforced by policing and penalties
common resources protected only by tradition or an ‘honor system’ may attract those who do not respect the tradition or who have no honor
part 3 – creating change – in systems and in our philosophy
6 – leverage points – places to intervene in a system
counterintuitive – tat’s forrester’s word to describe complex systems. leverage point frequently are not intuitive..
system goals are parameters that can make big differences..
so.. – a and a as goal.. turned into 2 convos as infra/parameters
if there’s a delay in our system that can be changed, changing it can have big effects..
democracy works better w/o the brainwashing power of centralized mass communications..
ie: money as os; Ed as the day; ..
there is a systematic tendency on the part of human beings to avoid accountability for their own decisions.. that’s why there are so many missing feedback loops..
(on rules – incentives, punishments, constraints)..
if you want to understand the deepest malfunctions of systems, pay attention to the rules and to who has power over them..t
the ability to self org is the strongest form of system resilience.. a system that can evolve can survive almost any change, by changing itself..t
the power of self org seems so wondrous that we tend to regard it as mysterious, miraculous, heaven sent..
creator .. just has to write marvelously clever rules for self org
how is that self org..? if there’s clever rules..?
the intervention (single culture cutting back learning/resilience) point here is obvious, but unpopular. encouraging variability and experimentation and diversity means ‘losing control’.. let a thousand flowers bloom and anything could happen.. who wants that.. let’s play it safe and push this lever in the wrong direction by wiping out bio, cultural, social and market diversity..
the diversity-destroying consequence of the push for control demos why the goal of a system is a leverage point superior to the self org ing ability of a system. ..
paradigmatic assumptions (shared idea in minds of society) of our current culture: money measures something real and has real meaning; therefore, people who are paid less are literally worth less; growth is good; one can own land;..
paradigms are the sources of systems.. from them, form shared social agreements about the nature of reality, come system goals and info flows, feedbacks, stocks, flows, and everything else about systems..
people who have managed to intervene in systems at the level of paradigm have hit a leverage point that totally transforms systems..
so.. let’s go w a paradigm already in each/every one of us..
you could say paradigms are harder to change than anything else about a system, and therefore this item should be lowest on the list, not second to highest.. but there’s nothing physical or expensive or even slow in the process of paradigm change.. in a single individual it can happen in a millisecond.. all it takes is a click in the mind, a falling of scales from the eyes, a new way of seeing.. whole societies are another matter – they resist challenges to their paradigms harder than they resist anything else..
do they..? have we really ever given it a true go..? ie: let go enough to see..?
so how do you change paradigms? thomas kuhn: you keep pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm. you keep speaking and acting, loudly and w assurance, from the new one.. you insert people w the new paradigm in places of public visibility and power.. you don’t’ waste time w reactionaries; rather, you work w active change agents and w the vast middle ground of people who are open minded..
systems modelers say that we change paradigms by building a model of the system, which takes us outside the system and forces us to see it whole.
one leverage point higher than changing a paradigm.. that is to keep oneself unattached in the arena of paradigm, to stay flexible, to realize that no paradigm is ‘true’ .. that every one, including the one that sweetly shapes your own worldview, is a tremendously limited understanding of an immense and amazing universe that is far beyond human comprehension. it is to ‘get’ at a gut level the paradigm that there are paradigms, and to see that that itself is a paradigm, and to regard that whole realization as devastatingly funny. it is to let go into not-knowing, ..t
people who cling to paradigms (which means just about all of us) take one look at the spacious possibility that everything they think is guaranteed to be nonsense and pedal rapidly in the opposite direction.. surely there is no power/control/understanding.. not even a reason for being, much less action, embodied in the notion that there is no certainty in any worldview. but, in fact everyone who has managed to entertain that idea, for a moment or for a lifetime, has found it to be the basis for radical empowerment..t
it is in this space of mastery over paradigm that people throw off addictions, live in constant joy, bring down empires, get locked up or burned at the state or crucified or shot, and have impacts that last for millenia..
the higher the leverage point, the more the system will resist changing it.. that’s why societies often rub out truly enlightened beings..
in the end, it seems that mastery has less to do w pushing leverage points than it does w strategically, profoundly, madly, letting go and dancing w the system..t
7 – living in a world of systems
we (mit) had many earnest discussion on the topic of ‘implementation’ by which we meant ‘how to get managers and mayors and agency heads to follow our advice’..
the truth was, we didnt’ even follow our advice..
for those who stake their id on the role of omniscient conqueror, the uncertainty exposed by systems thinking is hard to take. if you can’t understand, predict, and control, what is there to do?..t
system thinking leads to another conclusion, however, waiting, shining, obvious , as soon as we stop being blinded by the illusion of control. it says that there is plenty to do, of a different sort of ‘doing’ ..t.. the future can’t be predicted, but it can be envisioned and brought lovingly into being.. systems can’t be controlled, but they can be designed and redesigned.. we can’t surge forward w certainty into a world of no surprises, but we can expect surprises and learn from them .. we can’t impose our will on a system. we can listen to what the system tells us and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much getter than could ever be produced by our will alone..
we can’t control systems or figure them out. but we can dance w them..
aid and encourage the forces and structure that help the system run itself. notice how many of those forces and structures are at the bottom of the hierarchy. don’t be an unthinking intervenor and destroy the system’s own self maintenance capacities. before you charge in to make things better, pay attention to the value of what’s already there..
pretending you’re in control even when you aren’t is a recipe not only for mistakes, but for not learning from mistakes..
let’s face it, the universe is messy, it is nonlinear, turbulent, and dynamic. it spends its time in transient behavior on its way to somewhere else, not in mathematically neat equilibria. it self organizes and evolves. it creates diversity and uniformity. that’s what makes the world interesting, that’s what makes it beautiful and that’s what makes it work..
in a strict systems sense, there is no long term, short term distinction.. phenomena at diff time scales are nested w/in each other..
you need to be watching both the short and long term.. the whole system..
as w everything else about systems, most people already know about the interconnections that make moral and practical rules turn out to be the same rules. they just have to bring themselves to believe that which they know..
i’d say .. all people
joseph wood krutch: ‘thus though man has never before been so complacent about what he has, or so confident of his ability to do whatever he sets his mind upon, it is at the same time true that he never before accepted so low an estimate of what he is. that same scientific method which enabled him to create his wealth and to unleash the power he wields has, he believes, enabled biology and psychology to explain him away – or at least to explain away whatever used to seem unique or even in any way mysterious… truly he is, for all his wealth and power, poor in spirit..’
systems thinking by itself cannot bridge that gap (between understanding and implementation) .. but it can lead us to the edge of what analysis can do and then point beyond – to what can and must be done by the human spirit..