Learning About Systems:
3 Core Learning Capabilites
1. Understanding Living Systems
How do living systems work? What recurring patterns or archetypes do we see in systems, both natural and social? Given our limited time and energy, how can an understanding of the complexity of a situation allow me to act more effectively? (focus: principles of living systems)
2. Making Systems Visible
If we typically see the parts but not the whole system, what tools and methods help us to make systems visible? When we can see the recurring patterns, we’re less likely to automatically react, and more likely to understand and potentially take actions to changes those patterns when appropriate. (focus: 6-Steps, behavior-over-time graphs, causal loop diagrams, archetypes, stock-flow diagrams, computer models).
3. Talking about Systems
Knowing that no one actually carries an organization, a school, or any other system in their head (rather, they carry their experiences, perceptions, opinions – or mental models), how can we most effectively surface, test, and share our mental models? Here we collectively shift our attention to better problem definition, knowing that when we spend the time to define a problem, we’re well on our way to solving it. (focus: productive conversation, mental models, team learning)
Feedback Loops – Have them or be had by them!
Feedback loops are circular loops of cause and effect that occur by the thousands all around us. If reinforcing or positive feedback amplifies change, balancing or negative feedback dampens change.
If you build it, they will come
Adding lanes to a major highway seems like a rational response to traffic congestion. But city managers and other government officials may find themselves trapped in a reinforcing loop in which new roads lead to a sense of greater highway capacity, which leads to more cars on the road, which leads to even more congestion, which leads to a cry for more roads.