Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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What the #ebola pandemic reveals (again) about the world systemic vulnerabilities – #systemsthinking #vsm #labso

Out of a discussion on LinkedIn, I wrote the following:

Regarding the Ebola pandemic, at first we, the outsiders of Africa, didn’t notice, then we didn’t believe, then we didn’t invest, then we weren’t prepared, then we’re stuck by the huge implications of what might happen, then bounded rationality kicked in and we blinded ourselves to what ought to be done.

Sounds like a reinforcing loop (the epidemic archetype) running faster then the structural adaptation of the minds (cf. works of Maturana & Varela) getting progressively (though exponentially) involved in the system at play.

It seems to be our modern living habits (cheap international travels – flights, trains, cars), dense inhabiting zones, etc have created systems into which both information and viruses spread faster than the speed at which we can think, adapt and react.

This conclusion, for me, supports the idea that we need to change the way we address that high-speed complexity (high interconnectedness). More than ever, we don’t have the requisite variety to tackle it, whether static or, now, dynamic.  More than ever we need skills in facilitation of big groups to achieve collective intelligence. This is what we’ve tried to do by creating the Labso, Laboratory of Social Technologies: showing people how easy it is to tap into the power of the crowd and social networks by uncovering what works and why and making more of it, if not co-creating something bigger.

I hereby also predicts that this won’t be enough in the near future, on two accounts:

  • connectivity will continue increase both in the number of connections and in the speed (because of technology)
  • AND because by going to mass facilitation, we’re just solving a short term problem and contributing to the acceleration as well.

My personal solution to the near future (or present situation for some problems) is to accelerate further by sticking close to the geographical area, trust it to handle the local situation properly, and only signal/ask for help “upwards” when the need arises.

Sounds like a global Viable System Model to me, don’t you think?

#systemsthinking Might humans higher intellect be the cause for the announced doom?

The Club of Rome and “Limits to Growth” book have warned us since when I was born that without a drastic change, humanity is doomed. Indeed, a point of non-return was passed over in the 80s, so we I guess we all have to cross fingers and hope for an innovation to save us all.

Meanwhile, I was thinking out loud on LinkedIn/Systems Thinking World and happened to have posted the following, which I think might be of interest to readers of this blog.

I think there’s a system at play in humans on a second level that is absent in animals (and insects) [the discussion was about Insect Economies]

Animals interact on a ground level with their environment and are structurally coupled with it (Maturana). When there’s food available, they use it. When the resource is exhausted or below a *practical* level corresponding to their natural ability to gather/use it, they just stop, either through migrating to better places, which indeed let time for nature to rebuild itself or they breed less, or even they disappear altogether.

Humans on the contrary are able to adapt themselves to a higher level to their environment. When their usual way of using resources isn’t sufficient enough, they invent/innovate a new/different/better way of doing it, and exploit the resources further (usually through tools). The result is that nature goes beyond a point of being able to regenerate itself (overshoot and collapse? Mentioned here). When we achieve this point, we usually either move elsewhere (find a new oil natural tank) or innovate to use another kind of resource.

Indeed, it’s always a search for more, with (as far as I noted for now) more and more negative longer term consequences.

So, from a systemic perspective, I’d say that what allowed humanity to prosper up to now is its capacity to think at “upper” levels and have a new kind of adaptation to change, where animals are more limited. It might well be what will put humanity at risk in the longer term, unless we evolve one layer further up.

I thus see 3 tendencies for now:

  • continue humankind as usual (the 90%)
  • embrace decrease/frugal economy (ie, consume less and less, the 9%) – in which I place initiatives such as The Commons
  • embrace thinking to a higher level (the 1%?): systems thinking, the human project (http://www.thehumanproject.us/) and similar.

Despite being attracted with the third option, I’m wondering whether this direction is the good one given that it showed such poor results to date (incredible progress but with an exhausted planet in the end).

Comments?

@kickstarter project: a new kind of #systemsthinking book, please support @systemswiki!

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!

Please support them by donating!

Stop investigate solutions, start to gather the world! #stwg #systemsthinking

Stop looking for solutions, start to gather the worldThe problem situation

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).

CLE Newsletter – fall 2012: #systemsthinking (Christmas) Tree Game simulation for your kids!

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!

Have a look at the newsletter here (PDF). You can test the Tree game online using a simulator here.

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).

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.

*sigh*

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…

 

#Systems #dynamics reading of #linkedin (big) groups moderation effects (#stwg #systemsthinking)

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 »

Rio+20, #sustainability & the commons: tragedy of the commons at 3 levels (#systemsthinking #stwg)

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:

  1. Fight for usage of non renewable resources (or commons)
  2. Fight for monetization of non renewable resources (or commons)
  3. Fight for control over the non renewable resources (or commons)

Let’s review them each in turn…

Read more »

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