Places to Intervene in a System

A nice reminder from Jack Vinson about an excellent resource on ways to
poke on complex systems that are more likely to be effective than our
typical efforts. I’ve pointed to this before in several incarnations (here and here).
We’ve certainly seen more than our share recently of ineffective ways
to intervene. Perhaps we can hope that some of these lessons will find
their way into broader practice.

A 1997 article by Donella Meadows has been reprinted in a software developer magazine, Places to Intervene in a System. (Here’s a fuller version from 1998.)

Folks who do systems analysis have a great belief in “leverage
points.” These are places within a complex system (a corporation, an
economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in
one thing can produce big changes in everything.

The systems community has a lot of lore about leverage points. Those
of us who were trained by the great Jay Forrester at MIT have absorbed
one of his favorite stories. “People know intuitively where leverage
points are. Time after time I’ve done an analysis of a company, and
I’ve figured out a leverage point. Then I’ve gone to the company and
discovered that everyone is pushing it in the wrong direction!”

[via Johanna Rothman]

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