Thinking About Systems:
12 Living System Principles
There are living systems on all scales, from the smallest plankton to the human body to the planet as a whole. When we understand what constitutes a living system, we see that a family, a business, even a country are also living systems.
Here is a partial list of enduring understandings related to Living Systems:
Interdependence: A relationship in which each partner affects and often needs the other.
System Integrity: What a system has when all the parts and processes essential to its ability to function are present.
Biodiversity: the variety, complexity, and abundance of species that, if adequate, make ecosystems healthy and resilient.
Cooperation and Partnership: The continual process in which species exchange energy and resources.
Rightness of Size: The proportions of living systems–their bigness or smallness and their built-in limitations to growth–that influence a system’s stability and sustainability.
Living Cycles: A cycle is a circular process that repeats over and over, frequently returning to where it began. The water, lunar, sleep and other cycles sustain life, circulate resources, and provide opportunities for renewal.
Waste = Food: When waste from one system becomes food for another. All materials in nature are valuable, continuously circulating in closed loops of production, use, and recycling.
Feedback: Circular processes that create growth or decay by amplifying change (reiforcing feedback) or, foster stability by counteracting or lessening change (balancing feedback).
Nonlinearity: a type of behavior in which the effect is disproportionate from the cause.
Emergent Properties: Behavior that arises out of the interactions within a specific set of parts: the health of an ecosystem or a team’s performance, for example.
Flux: The continual movement of energy, matter and information that moves through living systems. Flux enables the living or “open” system to remain alive, flexible and ever-changing. The sun, for instance, provides a constant flux or flow of energy and resources that feeds all living organisms.
The Commons: Shared resources – such as air, water, land, highways, fisheries, energy, and minerals – on which we depend and for which we are all responsible.
Other key concepts related to living systems include: autopoesis, cognition and learning, networks, the first and second law of thermodynamics, stocks and flows, exponential growth, carrying capacity and ecological footprint.
The human approach to waste tends to be a straight line that looks like this: Take > Make > Waste. In nature, there is no such thing as waste. One species’ waste is another’s food; everybody is somebody’s lunch.