Leverage points

Where can you intervene to drive system change? Are there particular points or moments when you have more leverage?

This is something I’m really interested in when it comes to improving employee experience. How can you identify and elevate the moments that really matter for building trust in the workplace?

👉 Donella Meadows is who I associate with “leverage points”. She started with the observation that there are levers, or places within a complex system where a “small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything”.

💡 She began with a list of nine such points and expanded it to twelve. Here they all are, listed in order of increasing effectiveness:

🔹 Constants, parameters, numbers
🔹The sizes of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows.
🔹The structure of material stocks and flows
🔹The lengths of delays, relative to the rate of system change.
🔹The strength of negative feedback loops
🔹The gain around driving positive feedback loops
🔹The structure of information flows
🔹The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishments, constraints)
🔹The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure
🔹The goals of the system
🔹The mindset or paradigm out of which the system arises
🔹The power to transcend paradigms

👉 What’s this last one?: “It is to keep oneself unattached in the arena of paradigms, to stay flexible, to realize that NO paradigm is “true,” that every one, including the one that sweetly shapes your own worldview, is a tremendously limited understanding.”

This illustration comes from a great article by David Ehrlichman on systems thinking and design thinking, which you can find here: https://buff.ly/3ONzHLK

You can read Donella Meadows’ article on leverage points here: https://buff.ly/2MxRioV

It worth noting what she also wrote:

🔑 “There is so much that has to be said to qualify this list. It is tentative and its order is slithery. There are exceptions to every item that can move it up or down the order of leverage.”

💡 Moreover: “Leverage points are not easily accessible, even if we know where they are and which direction to push on them. There are no cheap tickets to mastery. You have to work hard at it, whether that means rigorously analyzing a system or rigorously casting off your own paradigms and throwing yourself into the humility of Not Knowing. In the end, it seems that mastery has less to do with pushing leverage points than it does with strategically, profoundly, madly letting go.”

(That is a terrific paragraph.)

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