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Posts Tagged ‘Systems Thinking’

Drifting Goals

March 9th, 2016 No comments

The Drifting Goals Archetype applies to situations where short-term solutions lead to the deterioration of long-term goals.  Also known as Eroding Goals, this is a special case of Shifting the Burden.  This Systems Archetype was formally identified in Appendix 2 of The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge (1990).  The Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) is shown below.

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When a gap exists between the current state of the system and our goal (or desired state), we take action proportional to the gap to move the system state toward our goal.  There is always a delay between the action we take and the effect on the system.  Simultaneously, pressure is exerted to instead adjust the goal to close the gap.  Adjusting the goal leads to a situation where the goal floats independently of any standard.  It often leads to goals being reduced, or eroded.

Classic examples of drifting goals include:

  • Reducing quality targets to improve measured quality performance (relative to goal) or to improve delivery schedule
  • Reducing quality of ingredients or parts below company standards to improve profits
  • Increasing time to deliver to match existing capacity and save on overtime
  • Reducing a new product’s feature set to meet deadlines; this works the other way also, i.e., extending the deadline to include all of the features
  • Reducing pollution targets when reduction implementation costs are too high
  • Increasing budget deficit limits rather than decreasing spending (or increasing taxes)
  • Adapting to unacceptable social circumstances rather than leave that environment
  • Reducing entrance requirements because not enough applicants meet them
  • Reducing level of patient care below recommended minimum due to understaffing
  • Reducing margin to spur sales and meet revenue targets
  • Lowering your own expectations in life, leading to lower personal success

Note that in many of these cases, there are competing goals and one is held more sacred than another.  Drifting Goals is an insidious process that seeks to lower your standards to the level of the current state of the system.  Stay aware of not just how the state of the system adjusts to your goal, but also of how your goal varies over time.  Changing a goal should be a conscious decision that does not undermine other objectives.

Read more…

Shifting the Burden

December 22nd, 2010 3 comments

The Shifting the Burden Systems Archetype shows how attacking symptoms, rather than identifying and fixing fundamental problems, can lead to a further dependence on symptomatic solutions.  This Systems Archetype was formally identified in Appendix 2 of The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge (1990).  The Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) is shown below.

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When a problem symptom appears, two options present themselves:  1) apply a short-term fix to the symptom, or 2) identify and apply a longer-term fix to the fundamental issue.  The second option is less attractive because it involves a greater time delay and probably additional cost before the problem symptom is relieved.  However, applying a short-term fix, as a result of relieving the problem symptoms sooner, reduces the desire to identify and apply a more permanent fix.  Often the short-term fix also induces a secondary unintended side-effect that further undermines any efforts to apply a long-term fix.  Note that the short-term fix only relieves the symptoms, it does not fix the problem.  Thus, the symptoms will eventually re-appear and have to be addressed again.

Classic examples of shifting the burden include:

  • Making up lost time for homework by not sleeping (and then controlling lack of sleep with stimulants)
  • Borrowing money to cover uncontrolled spending
  • Feeling better through the use of drugs (dependency is the unintended side-effect)
  • Taking pain relievers to address chronic pain rather than visiting your doctor to try to address the underlying problem
  • Improving current sales by focusing on selling more product to existing customers rather than expanding the customer base
  • Improving current sales by cannibalizing future sales through deep discounts
  • Firefighting to solve business problems, e.g., slapping a low-quality – and untested – fix onto a product and shipping it out the door to placate a customer
  • Repeatedly fixing new problems yourself rather than properly training your staff to fix the problems – this is a special form known as “shifting the burden to the intervener” where you are the intervener who is inadvertently eroding the capabilities and confidence of your staff (the unintended side-effect)
  • Outsourcing core business competencies rather than building internal capacity (also shifting the burden to the intervener, in this case, to the outsource provider)
  • Implementing government programs that increase the recipient’s dependency on the government, e.g., welfare programs that do not attempt to simultaneously address low unemployment or low wages (also shifting the burden to the intervener, in this case, to the government)

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“Tracing Connections” book honors Barry Richmond

June 17th, 2010 7 comments

Barry RichmondBarry Richmond was the founder of isee systems and pioneer in the field of systems thinking.  When his life was cut short by a sudden fatal heart attack, Barry was in the prime of his career and the systems thinking community experienced a collective sense of loss and grief.

Barry was fully engaged in bringing systems thinking to everyone.  He saw how this powerful way of thinking could help people to better understand society’s most pressing issues and make the world a better place.  Barry saw K-12 education as one of the keys to creating a better world.  He spoke often about educating young people to become ”systems citizens” and preparing students for the complex problems they would have to face.  Much of his time was devoted to training teachers to incorporate systems thinking into curricula and pedagogy.

A couple of years ago, Barry’s daughter, Joy Richmond, began spearheading an effort to create a book in honor of her father.  Joy invited a group of us together to talk about some ideas for the book and come up with a plan to make it happen. The first idea we discussed was writing the book that Barry himself had intended to write.  Barry left plenty of notes and even had a working title for a book about systems thinking called Traces.   We all agreed that it would be much too daunting to try to write a book for Barry, so we decided to have a book written in tribute to Barry by friends and colleagues who share his passion for systems thinking.

Steve Peterson, Corey Peck and Khalid Saeed were all part of that original discussion and eager to contribute by writing a chapter.  Each had a story to tell about using Systems Thinking in their work and why it is so important in an increasingly interdependent world.  What better way to honor Barry than writing a book that helped get the word out about systems thinking!

Shaping the Book

Lees Stuntz, Executive Director of the Creative Learning Exchange, was also in on the discussion and excited about asking educators influenced by Barry to contribute their stories. Before we invited other authors however, we wanted to provide some guidelines that would tie the book together and give it a more meaningful context.  I think it was Steve who came up with the idea to use the critical thinking skills first outlined in an article Barry wrote for the System Dynamics Review titled “Systems Thinking: Critical Thinking Skills for the 1990s and Beyond”.   We agreed the systems thinking skills would provide a good foundation for the book and each author could then choose a few of the thinking skills to emphasize when telling their story.

Tracing ConnectionsCountless hours of writing, editing, and designing later, Tracing Connections: Voices of Systems Thinkers was born.  Published in partnership with the Creative Learning Exchange, proceeds from the book will fund scholarships that offer learning opportunities for educators to use systems thinking and system dynamics in K-12 education.  The response so far has been excellent and we are pleased to be funding scholarships to help educators attend the ST/DM Conference later this month.

A Chapter for Everyone

What is especially nice about the book, is that you don’t need to read each chapter in sequence.  Since the authors’ experiences range from education and research to business and public policy, there’s sure to be a chapter for everyone.  Click on the link below to view the chapter by Frank Draper titled “Teaching by Wondering Around: Learning About the World Naturally”.  Frank tells a wonderful story about how Systems Thinking has transformed the way he teaches science to high school students.  After reading it, you’re going to wish you could enroll in one of Frank’s field science classes at Catalina Foothills school district in Tuscon, Arizona.

Teaching by Wondering Around by Frank Draper

Animal Temperature Model

Table of Contents with full list of chapter titles and authors

For more information or to order a copy of Tracing Connections, visit http://www.iseesystems.com/tc

Modeling Bass Diffusion with Rivalry

February 18th, 2010 4 comments

This is the last of a three-part series on the Limits to Growth Archetype.  The first part can be accessed here and the second part here.

Last time, we explored the effects of Type 1 rivalry (rivalry between different companies in a developing market) on the Bass diffusion model by replicating the model structure.  This part will generalize this structure and add Type 2 rivalry (customers switching between brands).

Bass Diffusion with Type 1 Rivalry

To model the general case of an emerging market with multiple competitors, we can return to the original single company case and use arrays to add additional companies.  In this case, everything except Potential Customers needs to be arrayed, as shown below (and available by clicking here).

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For this example, three companies will be competing for the pool of Potential Customers.  Each array has one-dimension, named Company, and that dimension has three elements, named A, B, and C, one for each company.  Although each different parameter, wom multiplier, fraction gained per $K, and marketing spend in $K, can be separately specified for each company, all three companies use the same values initially.  All three companies, however, do not enter the market at the same time.  Company A enters the market at the start of the simulation, company B enters six months later, and company C enters six months after that.

Recall that the marketing spend is the trigger for a company to start gaining customers.  Thus, the staggered market entrance can be modeled with the following equation for marketing spend in $K:

STEP(10, STARTTIME + (ARRAYIDX() – 1)*6)

The STEP function is used to start the marketing spend for each company at the desired time.  The ARRAYIDX function returns the integer index of the array element, so it will be 1 for company A, 2 for company B, and 3 for company C.  Thus, the offsets from the start of the simulation for the launch of each company’s marketing campaign are 0, 6, and 12, respectively.

This leads to the following behavior:

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Note that under these circumstances, the first company to enter the market retains a leadership position.  However, companies B and C could anticipate this and market more strongly.  What if company B spent 50% more and company C spent 100% more than company A on marketing that is similarly effective?  This could be modeling by once again changing the equation for marketing spend in $K, this time to:

STEP(10 + (ARRAYIDX() – 1)*5, STARTTIME + (ARRAYIDX() – 1)*6)

Read more…

Developing a Market Using the Bass Diffusion Model

January 21st, 2010 2 comments

This is part two of a three part series on Limits to Growth.  Part one can be accessed here and part three can be accessed here.

In part one of this series, I explained the Limits to Growth archetype and gave examples in epidemiology and ecology. This part introduces the Bass diffusion model, an effective way to implement the capture of customers in a developing market. This is also used to implement what Kim Warren calls Type 1 rivalry in his book Strategy Management Dynamics, that is, rivalry between multiple companies in an emerging market.

The Bass Diffusion Model

The Bass diffusion model is very similar to the SIR model shown in part one. Since we do not usually track customers who have “recovered” from using our product, the model only has two stocks, corresponding loosely to the Susceptible and Infected stocks. New customers are acquired through contact with existing customers, just as an infection spreads, but in this context this is called word of mouth (wom). This is, however, not sufficient to spread the news of a good product, so the Bass diffusion model also includes a constant rate of customer acquisition through advertising. This is shown below (and can be downloaded by clicking here).

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The feedback loops B1 and R are the same as the balancing and reinforcing loops between Susceptible and Infected in the SIR model. Instead of an infection rate, there is a wom multiplier which is the product of the Bass diffusion model’s contact rate and the adoption rate. If you are examining policies related to these variables, it would be important to separate them out in the model.

The additional feedback loop, B2, starts the ball rolling and helps a steady stream of customers come in the door. If you examine the SIR model closely, you will see that the initial value of Infected is one. If no one is infected, the disease cannot spread. Likewise, if no one is a customer, there is no one to tell others how great the product is so they want to become customers also. By advertising, awareness of the product is created in the market and some people will become customers without having encountered other customers who are happy with the product.

The behavior of this model is shown below. Note it is not different in character from the SIR model or the simple population model.

image Read more…

Limits to Growth

December 3rd, 2009 5 comments

This is the first of a three-part series on the Limits to Growth Archetype.  The second part can be accessed here and the third part here.

The Limits to Growth Systems Archetype, also known as Limits to Success, combines growth with an exogenous or endogenous limit.  This Systems Archetype was formally identified in Appendix 2 of The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge (1990), but made its first prominent appearance in World Dynamics by Jay Forrester (1971) and then The Limits to Growth by Meadows, Meadows, Randers, and Behrens (1972).  The Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) is shown below.

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Real growth processes have inherent limits to growth.  Identifying these limits can help avoid problems in the future, whether the problem is overpopulation, increasing demand for a product that cannot be met, or growing a business in a mature market.  When growth is desired, but limited, it is always better to find ways to increase the limit before pushing for more growth.  Excessive growth in the face of a limit often leads to collapse.  Driving the system to the point of collapse can erode the ability to continue after the collapse, for example, by reducing the production capability of a piece of farmland or destroying the reputation of a company.

Classic examples of limits to growth include:

  • The collapse of the deer population on the Kaibab plateau and on St. Matthew Island due to overpopulation and the attendant overgrazing of their habitat
  • The overshoot and collapse of the human population on Easter Island
  • Overgrazing in the Sahel region of Africa by cattle herders
  • Overfishing of the oceans by fishermen
  • The collapse of People Express due to sharp customer growth combined with slow personnel growth
  • The sharp exodus of America Online subscribers after an intense marketing campaign increased the number of subscribers far beyond their capacity
  • The contraction of the world economy in 2008 due to limiting oil supplies
  • The productivity of staff deteriorating as a company grows, due to increased interactions and reporting overhead
  • Business growth limited by the size of the potential market
  • Yeast cells in the fermentation process, who suffer from both the loss of exogenously supplied sugar and the increase of endogenously produced pollution

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Success to the Successful

July 15th, 2009 No comments

fifth_disciplineMy first introduction to the Systems Archetypes was years ago when I read Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline.  I remember relating these classic Systems Thinking stories to my own experience in business and thinking how useful it was to understand some of the problems we faced and why solutions didn’t always work out as intended.

What I’ve come to appreciate since then is how the characteristic themes of the Systems Archetypes transform across all sorts of different fields and situations — even our personal lives!

Take, for example, the basic story line of the “Success to the Successful” archetype:

When given the choice, we invest our resources where we expect them to deliver the best results.  By giving more resources to one option over another, we create a self-fulfilling prophesy whereby the favored option is perpetually more successful.

The story of the Success to the Successful archetype applies to all sorts of  situations leading to well-known patterns of behavior:

Exploring the Model Structure

We recently published a model of the Success to the Successful archetype to the web using isee NetSim. Exploring the model is a great way to understand the underlying structure of the Causal Loop Diagramsystem and think about ways to avoid the problems it creates.

You’ll also get an appreciation of how the decision policy for allocating resources can determine success rather than competence.

Running the Simulation

After you’ve explored the model, try running a simulation.  The base case scenario assumes no one has an advantage over the other.  As you can imagine, everyone is equally successful and it’s a win-win situation.  Try turning on the “Advantage A Switch”  to see how even a modest advantage for A can snowball into a disadvantage for B.  It’s surprising how quickly the gap can widen.

Using Modules to Create Models

In STELLA and iThink version 9.1, we added the ability to build models by linking together modules.  The Success to the Successful model is an example of how you can use modules to create a higher level map of your model.  This map can easily be presented as a causal loop diagram.

The beauty of modules is they simplify the process of transitioning from a CLD to a model that actually simulates.  If you’ve ever tried to convert a causal loop diagram into a stock and flow model, you can appreciate what I’m talking about!  By architecting your model into modules, you’ve got a built-in mechanism for developing your model in manageable chunks and communicating the high level causal relationships.

“Thinking in Systems” book inspires online course

March 6th, 2009 12 comments

thinkinginsystemsOne of the questions I often get asked in both my professional and personal life is “What is Systems Thinking?”  It seems like a simple question but the answer can be very different depending on who you’re talking to.  Much of my career has been involved in the development of software so it is only natural for a lot of the folks I know to think of “systems” as having something to do with computers.  Then there are certain unnamed members of my family who still don’t quite understand what it is I do for a living.   And even when I do my best to explain, their eyes glaze over and they claim to get it “sort of”.  That’s why I was so excited after I read the book Thinking in Systems – A Primer by Donnella Meadows.  Finally there’s a book I can recommend to everyone because it so clearly explains what this systems stuff is all about.

I have Chris Soderquist of Pontifex Consulting to thank for recommending Thinking in Systems to me but also for suggesting we collaborate on an online course based on the book.  Chris was one of the book reviewers and together with Diana Wright of the Sustainability Institute (the book’s editor) we developed a syllabus for a four-session web seminar series titled Thinking in Systems: Practical Lessons for Building Sustainable Organizations & Communities.

Here’s how the online course will work.  For four consecutive Fridays in April and May participants will log on to a web site where the course is being hosted. (We use the GoToWebinar service.)  During each 70 minute session, Chris and Diana will present materials  and provide step-by-step instruction followed by an interactive discussion period.  Sessions will be recorded and all of the course materials will be available for download afterwards.

[UPDATEThe live course is now complete but we have made the recorded series available for purchase]

We’re really excited about this course because it is so relevant to the headlines we’ve been reading daily and will provide a framework for discussion regardless of your Systems Thinking experience level.   If you’ve never done any modeling before, this course will be a great place to start.  We’re even offering a time limited student license of iThink or STELLA for course participants.

Looking forward to having you join us on Fridays, beginning April 17th.