Source: Continuous Improvement Associates
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What's This Site About?
By Bob Powell, 5/17/06

I've been told that it's difficult to figure out what this site is about. Here goes.

It's about applying systems thinking to organizational and social issues. OK. But what does that mean?

It means examining the "structure" of the system in order to understand its "behavior," where "structure" means the feedback loops in the system ... positive and negative ... or reinforcing and balancing. Nothing grows (or declines) without a reinforcing feedback. And nothing grows forever, there's always a balancing feedback that will (eventually) limit growth. And long-lived systems have an overwhelming number balancing feedbacks that make the system stable ... and resist change. Even when we want to improve behavior, these balancing loops will "rise up" to oppose change. So we'd better understand them or change initiatives will fail.

Unless we understand these feedbacks we really don't know what policies to adopt or what actions to take to change the system's behavior. I was told recently that changing policies doesn't necessarily change behavior. While that may sometimes be true, we're more driven by the systems around us than we tend to think.

In our society we've adopted a false belief: that of radical individualism. It's a myth. The fact is that, while we're both individuals and members of a collective (... it's not "either-or," it's "both-and" ... thinking otherwise is the logical fallacy of the false dilemma). The influences of structure (including policies) and the collective are more powerful.

The idea is to expand the boundary of the system until we can identify structures that create observed behaviors. This describes a theory of the system for comparison against the data of reality (... that's the scientific method). Note that "data" is more than numbers in a database, it includes "mental models" that determine how we humans interact with and influence the system (soft data).

If we implement policies and actions that be believe should act on the structure to produce the desired change, and it does not, then we've either got some more work to do on the theory or we need to examine the validity and appropriateness of the data. It's just like science ... it's social science.

So you'll find papers here on organizational behavior, on social behavior, and on economics ... and on the structures that are responsible what's happening.

It's an amazing lens through which to examine the world and understand what's going on ... a necessary precursor to figuring out what to do.

© 2003 Continuous Improvement Associates

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