Two Loops Model

Exploring how systems change.

The Two Loops by Margaret Wheatley and the Berkana Institute has shaped the way I work with organizations. I’ll share my notes here on the model so you guys can keep passing it on.

Today we are living with the strong remnants of what’s called the Newtonian world view -> a mechanistic view.

Basically, if something breaks in our societal systems, we separate it into parts, analyze them, find the faulty part and switch it out for a better one. Except that doesn’t work. Rarely does it result in the kind of change us as leaders hope for. Instead, they were confronted by new problems caused by their initial solution (and the initial problem might also be back and bigger this time.)

We can’t plan to avoid these consequences because we can’t see all the connections below the service.

When we take a step back, we realize we’re tugging at webs of relationships that are seldom visible… but always there.

In the last 100 years, we’ve progressed to realize a couple key points:

  • Our world view is constantly changing
  • Our world is quite adept to change
  • Living things operate differently than mechanical things

This mechanistic world view doesn’t work because:

Humans don’t function like machines.

That’s why we should now look at a new systems model called Two Loops.

It tells the story of how systems dies and new systems emerge constantly. It works on all levels and isn’t linear. As systems ascend and become more the more dominant system, they become more powerful and entrenched.

Using the fossil fuel economy as an example:

  • Oil was discovered
  • We found we could use it as an energy source
  • Over time the world economy was structured around fossil fuels

At the top of their game, life was great! The money was rolling in and the economy was booming. The people who hold this system up and fight to protect it are called stewards. They are comfortable in an established system. Stewards try to maintain the system as best they can for what they feel is the greater good of the system they are serving. (They are keeping it stable for the rest of us.)

All systems eventually begin to teeter and start to lose their significance. They enter hospice when they start to decline and are on their way to death. (We can only live off fossil fuels until it kills our climate or we run out of them.)

An interesting movement happens right at the peak of every system: some people drop out. (They realize as a fact that fossil fuels are a limited resource.) These pioneers walk out to start a new system. These pioneers look at the way things are, the deeply held beliefs that underpin the current system, and see that another way is possible.

This is a radical act; they are leaving the comfort of an established system at it’s peak and going alone to start a new one.

Ok, so now you have a bunch of divergents alone at the beginning of the new loop. It can be a really lonely time (picture scientists in their basements working on solar panels). What do they need to do to build this new system? To create a new movement? They need to find each other.

They need to name themselves. They need to be able to google themselves (renewable energy, green economy, etc.)

Now we know what we are- next we need to connect with each other. We need to build a network and build social capital.

Once connection happens on a regular basis and is centered around progressive action, it becomes a community of practice. This includes failing forward together and upwards as the new system continues to emerge and build. It’s also a place to nourish the system so it can keep growing. New systems need: time, space, money, expertise and skill building.

Once the new system is on the upward swing, it hits an illumination stage (fossil fuel cars will be banned by 2040 in most European countries). This is where we tell the success stories to inspire the people in the old system to come over and transition into a new way of living. When, how and to whom we illuminate is a careful dance. Timing is everything.

Here is a video from the creators of this model explaining it in more detail: