Gene Bellinger and Scott Fortmann-Roe have started a kickstarter project called “Beyond Connecting the Dots” to create a new kind of eBook where the systems thinking (systems dynamics) models will be directly editable and playable with inside the book!
I love solving problems. Moreover, I also love finding solutions and making scaffolding theories. Yet, I feel there’s a big problem behind such tendencies: the more you work at a solution on your own, the more prefect it seems to be, then the more resistance you’re probably going to generate when you go out to the world for implementing your solution. Here’s why.
On the diagram on the right, start at the “Pressing problem” part and follow the arrows.
- First the R1 loop (for Reinforcing). This really looks like what you’re all trying to do: you have (good!) solutions, and try to make people adhere to them. I think it’s mostly doomed to fail. The problem entices you to think about a solution which you will mostly want to advocate, thereby triggering a conflict with people’s different world views (because they haven’t got a change to think to your problem themselves), which more probably will result in others rejecting the solution you pushed onto them, thereby lowering the chances that actions are taken to solve the initial problem, in the end, making the problem all the more pressing.
- The R2 loop is similar, only that is goes through your working out the solution increasing your own conviction that it’s a good one (because you’re adapting your mind to it).
- The R3 loop is what prevents the whole system to come to a solution that would suit each and every one of us. continuing from the conviction that your solution is a good one, you (maybe unconsciously) decrease your willingness to give time to others to contribute to your building a solution, meaning that they indeed won’t work in a commonly built solution, indeed decreasing the chances (or number) of commonly built solutions, which adds up to the lack of actions taken to solve the problem, thereby making the problem a pressing one.
How to change that situation?
My intuition is that we should redirect energy flowing from the “pressing problem” to “thinking about a solution” (dotted blue arrow) directly to “others participate in a commonly built solution” (the green dotted arrow, mostly non existent at the time, or so it seems to me?). Doing such an action would suppress R1 and R2 loops and R3 would be shortened and more importantly replaced by a Balancing loop, meaning the more you work on a commonly built solution, the less there will be pressing problems.
A global organization to support commonly built solutions
The reflection above came out of a context related to finding global solutions to world pressing problem (mostly in the SEE fields: Social, Economical and Ecological). The Commons is all but one of the concepts meant at addressing these global issues. I’m not saying Management of the Commons is a bad solution. Indeed I even think of the opposite. But I think people working on such a solution should also start worrying about how they would have their solution adopted by lay people at a global level.
Here’s one of many web pages discussing the concept of the commons: Growing the Commons as Meta-narrative?
So, how to create that green dotted arrow, for me, is through a worldwide helping/supporting organization (be it the United Nations or else) that would facilitate concrete resolution of problems locally, regionally and globally. That would necessitate some efficient and practical means of communication between all levels top down and also on horizontal levels, between different fields: for instance, you need the ecologists trying to preserve some local pond to exchange with the nearest city officials, with business shareholders that want to build their industries near the pond, some people representatives that want both a green environment and some work to live decently, etc.
Fortunately, principles on how to organize such an organization do exist in the form of the Viable System Model for organizations as presented by Stafford Beer. What’s still lacking is an efficient model of communication, though in bootstrapping such an organization, currently existing forums, Facebook pages, Wikis and syndicated blogs would probably be do the trick.
To put it shortly and bluntly: the more people will think of a solution, the less chances are that it will become a reality.
(unless you can fund and implement it without the help of others, of course, but since we’re talking of a world-wide problem, it’s just impossible).
So, you’re interested in Systems Thinking but don’t know how or where to start? ST is a wild beast, but I found that starting with Systems Dynamics is easier. Don’t assume that all there is in ST!
So, here we go, the latest issue of the Creative Learning Exchange newsletter where there’s all the necessary toolkit to teach Systems to your kids… or yourself!
CLE is an organization that publishes content to teach systems thinking to kids, mostly up to K-12 level.
It’s Christmas season, with the popular harvesting of Christmas Trees. A nice opportunity to play the game!
Hmm, while I’m at it, The Lorax (IMDB, Wikipedia page here) has only been released recently in France, but CLE has published a ST studying course for it here: Studying The Lorax with Feedback Loops (PDF as well).
Linda Booth Sweeney writes to her children about the meaning of sustainability, life, love and why she must be far from her children for a week.
Systems Dynamics study of “less trains when incidents means more incidents” #stwg #systemsthinking #systemsdynamics
Autumn is traditionally a season where suburbs trains have problems. There are a few reasons for that, including leaves on the rails (I found an official flyer explaining the process of which I’ll talk someday).
I’ve come to notice that very often, once there’s an incident on a line (someone using emergency signal thus causing a train to stop), other trains are unscheduled. Indeed, I think this is worsening the situation (escalation of incidents) resulting in possibly more incidents, up to a point where the traffic being stopped for too long, people who are blocked in a train open the doors and walk on the rails, thereby causing the whole traffic to Paris (yes, I’m in France) to come to a total halt for obvious security reasons.
Until this extreme situation (that happens once or twice a year), there are intermittent problems that the attached Systems Dynamics diagram tries to clarify. For my knowledgeable readers, it’s two intertwined archetypes: a “fix that fail” with a “shifting the burden“. Here’s why.
- R1: First, there’s a train incident that cause trains to be late. With late trains, there is an increase of people waiting on the platforms to board the next train. Of course, the more there are people waiting, the more there is a risk of incident in the next trains, thereby increasing the number of train incidents.
- B3: When trains are late, that increases the perceived complexity of traffic because the whole schedules have to be changed. So of course, an immediate and symptomatic answer is to reduce the number of trains in circulation thereby reducing the perceived complexity of traffic. This response is somewhat natural, but as we see next, it is a “fix that fail’ archetype.
- R2: by reducing the number of trains in circulation, there is an opposite increase of the number of people waiting on the platforms for next trains, thereby increasing the risk of train incidents: we’re back into R1. The intended fix failed, thereby worsening the situation!
So we see that this first loops (R1-R2-R3) form a fix that fail archetype. Now I want to show how that situation is perpetuating itself through a “shifting the burden” archetype. Let’s continue the investigation:
- B4: when the perceived complexity of traffic increases, so does the learning to manage complexity, which would, after some delay, decrease the perceived complexity of traffic.
- R5: of course, with an increase in learning to manage complexity, the number of train in circulation could increase, thereby decreasing the number of people waiting for the next train and then reducing too the risk of incidents.
B3-B4-R5 form that ‘shifting the burden” archetype where there’s a strong incentive to reduce the perceived complexity by reducing the number of train (short-term, symptomatic response) which reduce the possibility of train controllers to learn how to manage complexity (longer term, better, response). Further, that short-term, symptomatic response is a “fix that fail” in that it worsen the situation by increasing incidents, thus trains late, perceived complexity of traffic and thus increasing pressure on controllers to further reduce the number of running trains.
Hopefully, there’s an unintended beneficial consequence for myself: being blocked in a train is free time to read more systems thinking books!
What to do? Well, I think one of the leverage points resides in the traffic controllers increasing their learning from complexity, but they would need to be aware of the situation first.
Also, I haven’t modelled the security measures that further makes controllers wanting to reduce the number of trains, but it’s acting in a similar way as B3. Yet, for the same reason, more people waiting makes for more incidents and thus a decreased security.
To me, the solution to less incidents (thus improved security) is to have more trains, which would mean more complexity, but traffic controllers would get a chance to learn from it, thereby making them able to sustain a dense enough traffic in case of incidents.
I’ll try to have that essay covertly sent to Transilien for their consideration…
Self-reinforcing loop. A great one.
Though I wonder where the limits to growth might be?
Here’s a thinking of mine I had the other day regarding group with a high number of members and a (strong) moderation of new discussion topics. That group which I am referring to is Systems Thinking World on LinkedIn.
Here’s the message I sent to the group owner and moderation, Gene, also owner of the fantastic Systems Wiki website.
As promised, here’s what came to my mind when I complained regarding your strict moderation rules. It’s quite of a big diagram, so here’s my try at explaining what happens. Hope it’s clear otherwise please ask for clarification. Though my own conclusion is clear: please create an unmoderated subgroup Read more »
As my readers may know, I’m a member of the Systems Thinking World LinkedIn discussion group and there’s a running thread regarding that United Nations call from Secretary General Ban Ki Moon about some revolutionary thinking to get the global economy out of the marsh it is now.
Thanks to that (long) thread, I’ve been acquainted with various initiatives, one of them being that of The School of Commoning. One of their home page blog article is about a Tragedy of the Commons identified following the Rio+20 UN world conference recently.
Indeed, I identified not one, not two, but three Tragedy of the Commons happening regarding these sustainability issues, though not all at the same level, but probably reinforcing the whole problem at a bigger level (haven’t modelled that from a higher level, though, someone ought to do it. Volunteers, somewhere?). They are:
- Fight for usage of non renewable resources (or commons)
- Fight for monetization of non renewable resources (or commons)
- Fight for control over the non renewable resources (or commons)
Let’s review them each in turn…
Reading about a draft report created out of contributions by Systems Thinkers on the LinkedIn group “Systems Thinking World“, in a discussion aimed at replying to UN’s General Secretary Ban Ki Moon call for revolutionary thinking regarding the current economic crisis, the following considerations occurred to me:
“Could it be that the current Social, Economical and Ecological interplay (system) is indeed sustaining the current situation (a downward slope to future ecological, economic and hence social havoc?”
I tried to quickly summarized my view in the attached diagram (for those that don’t know how to read such a diagram: boxes are “stock” that accumulate (or decrease) over time. Arrows are “flows” between stocks. A + arrow means that both sides of it move in the same direction (if origin increases, so does the destination of it, and conversely when decreasing). A – arrow means the two ends of the arrow move in opposite directions (if origin increases, destination decreases and vice-versa)).
The corresponding explanation would go something as:
- The Economy being in a downturn, it negatively impacts the Social capital of people (trust, willing to give to others [not in terms of money but more on the line of compassion and relationships]), which makes them less likely to contribute to improvements of the Economy (R1).
- A decreasing Economy is negatively impacting Ecology as well (R2 through Ecological capital and Survival Instinct back to Social Capital) which, along with all the fuss about Ecology in the medias (UN call including), stresses out our Survival instinct, thereby negatively impacting our Social capital as well.
- The less we have a Social capital, the less likely we are to contribute to Ecology (R4).
- The last loop is about our stressed out Survival instinct that negatively impacts our Social capital, reinforcing the downturn in Survival instinct (R3).
Please show me where I’m wrong?!
Of course, should that situation has an ounce of veracity, the question would be: out to get out of it. This is the whole purpose of the aforementioned thread to propose some systemic (revolutionary in itself, probably) answer.
Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems that Never Happened (Creating & Sustaining Process Improvement) #Lean paper #stwg
The paper has been authored by John Sterman and Nelson Repenning and is available here.
The paper’s very didactic and takes the reader by the hand into building the diagram step by step.