Limits to Growth

Growth in a constrained environment is very common, so common that systems thinkers call it the "limits-to-growth" archetype. Whenever we see a growing entity, whether it be a population, a corporation, a bank account, a rumor, an epidemic, or sales of a new product, we look for the reinforcing loops that are driving it and for the balancing loops that ultimately will constrain it. We know those balancing loops are there, even if they are not yet dominating the system's behavior, because no real physical system can grow forever. Even a hot new product will saturate the market eventually. A chain reaction in a nuclear power plant or bomb will run out of fuel. A virus will run out of susceptible people to infect. An economy may be constrained by physical capital or monetary capital or labor or markets or management or resources or pollution.

Feedback Systems

One of the central insights of systems theory, as central as the observation that systems largely cause their own behavior, is that systems with similar feedback structures produce similar dynamic behaviors, even if the outward appearance of these systems is completely dissimilar.

Feedback

The information delivered by a feedback loop can only affect future behavior; it can'd deliver the information, and so can't have an impact fast enough to correct behavior that drove the current feedback....

Why is that important? Because it means there will always be delays in responding.

Thinking in Systems

Hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, economic instability, unemployment, chronic disease, drug addiction, and war, for example, persist in spite of the analytical ability and technical brilliance that have been directed toward eradicating them. No one deliberately creates those problems, no one wants them to persist, but they persist nonetheless. That is because they are intrinsically systems problems–undesirable behaviors characteristic of the system structures that produce them. They will yield only as we reclaim our intuition, stop casting blame, see the system as the source of its own problems, and find the courage and wisdom to restructure it.

About Me

Developer at Brown University Library specializing in instructional design and technology, Python-based data science, and XML-driven web development.

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