I’m a huge fan of system dynamics and the understanding of complex systems that has come from the field that Jay Forrester invented.
This is a superb article by the late Donella Meadows about the leverage points in complex systems, in ascending order of effectiveness.
Alas, most of the things we do to try to change our social and economic systems use only the least effective levers.
Tonight I’m especially struck by #9, delays in systems. Delays of information and material movement can throw a system into or out of sync in ways that utterly change the system’s characteristics.
For many years, we’ve been operating as a society under the implicit assumption that speed = efficiency. The faster things are, the fewer delays, the better off we are.
But this isn’t necessarily true. Increasing the efficiency of communication decreases the time between communication we have to understand and respond. We end up in reactive mode, rather than thoughtful mode. That’s one of the pernicious effects of email. Many people take action on email as it comes in, rather than taking action only on what’s important. That can make the difference between overload and achievement.
Removing communication delays also seems to reduce our tendency to prepare. When you can make changes to your presentation all the way until the night before it’s due, then you will. In prior years, when you had no choice but to finish early enough to send your slides to be duplicated, you actually had time you could then use to rehearse and concentrate on delivery, rather than on making last-minute changes.
Read the article. Let me know your thoughts, if you still have enough attention span to make it through, after all the years we’ve spent training ourselves to operate in a purely reactive—but oh, so efficient–mode.