Thinking in Systems
Systems contain many traps that if handled incorrectly, result in disaster for a sector or the entire system. Luckily, these traps also present opportunities if they are handle gracefully.
Policy resistance happens when multiple actors desire an opposing system state. If any of the actors tries to pull a system in a particular direction, the rest will resist an equal amount to bring a system back to the imperfect balance point.
Using power to overcome resistance results in catastrophic effects because the retaliation grows more sever the longer an undesirable system state is forced on the other actors.
You can overcome policy resistance by letting go and enduring the temporary losses while allowing everyone else to ease off too. Another option lies in looking for a shared goal that everyone can redirect their efforts towards.
An unregulated commons quickly becomes abused because each of the actors gets all the benefit but spreads the cost across everyone involved.
Keeping the commons beneficial to everyone requires education, privatization, or regulation. Depending on the type of commons and system, one or a combination of strategies needs to be applied.
If a systems performance standards get dragged down to the worst performance, then a reinforcing loop starts that will drive down overall performance until a total collapse.
To overcome the downward performance trend, performance standards need be absolute, or better yet, enhanced every time a new best performance occurs.
Escalation happens when two stocks get locked in a loop where they try to surpass each other. This leads to the degradation of every stock and flow that’s not involved in the escalation loop.
The best way to protect a system from escalation is to avoid it in the first place. If escalation can’t be avoided, however, resolving it requires someone to break the cycle by loosing, or tough rounds of policy negotiation.
Many systems are susceptible to providing the successful with more means to succeed. Like a game of monopoly, this ends up with a single actor controlling the entire niche without any competition remaining.
The rewards of the system need to be carefully designed if multiple actors are to remain in a niche. Otherwise, the system will require continuous diversification and creation of new niches.
Addiction happens in the system when an actor, a policy, or a substance alleviates or masks a negative system effect without helping the system handle the circumstance better on it’s own.
The best way to handle addiction is to avoid it. Once addiction sets in, the addict can mitigate the negative effects by strengthening the systems capabilities before taking away the intervene. But no matter the steps taken, the addict will face painful withdrawals from the intervene.
Rule beating and wrong goals are the two sides of the same coin. In rule beating, the system actors try to get around the rules and cause harm to the overall system. With wrong goals, on the other hand, the actors become overly focused on an inappropriate goal and end up harming the rest of the system.
The way out of rule beating the wrong goals is the same: redesigning the rules or goals to work better within the system.