One thing that I have learned from studying systems thinking is that many times the path forward has multiple options but we only focus on one or two options.
This is good to help us from being paralyzed by choices but sometimes it significantly limits us from achieving more. Sometimes there is a choice that isn’t obvious that would solve the problem in a better way than the instant solution that people think up.
The reason is simple. In systems thinking we get away from only seeing a problem and solution and start to see the myriad of connections between various aspects within the system. This leaves us seeing many options for ways to proceed towards a solution.
In Systems Thinking for Social Change by David Peter Stroh, the author says, “Social systems are not only surprising but also, in the words of systems thinker Donella Meadows, ‘perverse.’ I think of them as seductive in that they tend to lead people to do exactly the wrong thing for all the right reasons.”
This is true for social systems but can be found in almost all systems. When we want to change the system to improve, we usually grasp onto a few ideas that seem right for all the right reasons.
We see crime increase in our city and pass laws to get tougher on criminals. But the crime rate didn’t spike due to low penalties for criminals. Other causes probably contributed more to the increase in crime. It could be an economic downturn created more desperation among the lower classes. It could be lack of assistance for those struggling that then turn to crime as the only option.
Tougher laws and penalties, then, don’t actually improve the situation. The problem continues because the root cause isn’t addressed. Then, these criminals get tougher sentences. But when they ultimately return to society they don’t have the ability to do anything differently because this remains on their record and it becomes even more difficult to find gainful employment.
This happens all the time, even in our own personal lives. Think about something that you have wanted to change or something you wanted to achieve and not yet found a way to get there. I bet there were obvious options that you took but didn’t seem to actually help.
It could be that you want to lose weight so you try the latest diet craze. It could be that you want to stop accumulating debt so you get a 0% balance transfer credit and put your debt there so you don’t pay interest. But both of those are only temporary. They don’t attack the root problems; those go unchanged.
So instead of working to find the most obvious solution, learn to use systems thinking to better understand the full scope of what is going on. Learn to understand aspects of the system such as leverage points, and balancing or reinforcing feedback loops. Learn to see the myriad of factors and how they all interconnect.
Then learn to take different paths forward. At first it will seem like you have to do the hard work instead of taking the quick path but over time you will learn that the hard work is usually what is required for real change and the quick path is just an illusion that ultimately leads you back to the current state after a temporary relief from the symptoms.