Aligning pathways and expectations to achieve more effective change

This article is about ways to shape your decisions and changes through understanding system intervention.

No one can define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love. No one can define or measure any value. But if no one speaks up for them, if systems aren’t designed to produce them, if we don’t speak about them and point toward their presence or absence, they will cease to exist.”
― Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer

Ever wanted to change the world and it didn’t work out?
Tried to give up smoking and it didn’t work?
Didn’t want that new freeway next to your home?
Want to stop the next nuclear war?
Annoyed that a political activist might be in prison longer than an actual criminal?

Ever heard the expression “using a sledge hammer to crack a nut”? That is what this is about. What is the thing you want to change (e.g. the nut in the shell to be made available to eat) versus the tool you use to achieve (e.g. sledge hammer or a specifically designed nut cracker). Now sure a sledge hammer will get the job done, but the nut might be pulverised in the process. It’s just about using the right tool for the right outcome.

Here is a cool list (below 1–12) to work out how effective a “change” you want to enact might work out. It can also be used to shape important decisions you need to make.

The way it works is that #12 is the least effective and #1 is the most effective. It doesn’t mean that #12 isn’t effective. It just means that #12 changes less than #6. Depending on what you want to change, then #12 might be quite fine.

This can be useful to us in life in at least three ways:

A. Expectations: We often work to change something and the outcome is better or worse than we expected. This can occur because we are applying, for example, a #6 change and expecting the outcome of #1. Of course the outcome will be disappointing. However, if we apply a #6 change and model our expectations on a #6 change, then we should be fairly happy. At other times we might have a better outcome than we expected. Well, that is probably just because you may have thought (unconsciously perhaps) that you were apply a #6 change, but in reality your efforts/idea led to it being a #4 change. Want to change the world? Well, just simply fiddling with #12 won’t get you #1. But at least #12 might be a start on the pathway and set your expectations consciously and accordingly.

B. Decisions: Ever need to make an important decision about something? Well, a decision often relates to a change. Decisions inevitably lead to initiating a change in your life about something. You can assess how difficult/effective your decision might be, by considering what the change is based on the list below. Find it on the list and then consider if that is really what you want to do, or could you aim for more? You may want to start thinking more positively. So you may decide to then apply change #8. However, to really make a change in your life, just ceasing negative thoughts might not get you the outcome you really desire, so perhaps consider #3 instead. Or, at the very least, don’t expect to do #8 and get the outcome of #3.

C. Scale and scope: Consider the scope of the change and the resources/support you will need. You can’t change the world (#2) on your own. You will need resources and support. You can change yourself in small and large ways on your own, however, #1 requires more will power, discipline and energy than say #12.

12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards).
11. The sizes of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows.
10. The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport networks, population age structures).
9. The lengths of delays, relative to the rate of system change.
8. The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the impacts they are trying to correct against.
7. The gain around driving positive feedback loops.
6. The structure of information flows (who does and does not have access to information).
5. The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishments, constraints).
4. The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure.
3. The goals of the system.
2. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises.
1. The power to transcend paradigms.

So, what is a system? A system is a set of things — people, cells, molecules, or whatever — interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behaviour over time.
― Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer

This article is based on the following if you would like to read more about systems intervention:

A crazy explorer of the world.