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This Focused Performance Weblog started life as a "business management blog" containing links and commentary related primarily to organizational effectiveness with a "Theory of Constraints" perspective, but is in the process of evolving towards primary content on interactive and mobile marketing. Think of it as about Focusing marketing messages for enhanced Performance. If you are on an archive page, current postings are found here.

Friday, September 05, 2003

How to Look, Where to Act -- This 1997 Whole Earth article by Donella Meadow (actually titled Places to Intervene in a System) ties in nicely with my other posts of today. The idea of looking both ways, and then going through the red light anyhow is reflected in the following excerpt...
"Folks who do systems analysis have a great belief in 'leverage points.' These are places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.

"The systems community has a lot of lore about leverage points. Those of us who were trained by the great Jay Forrester at MIT have absorbed one of his favorite stories. 'People know intuitively where leverage points are. Time after time I've done an analysis of a company, and I've figured out a leverage point. Then I've gone to the company and discovered that everyone is pushing it in the wrong direction!'"
I've felt the same frustration -- quickly identifying the constraint, and then observing everything wrong being done to mismanage it. Sometimes it is hard to see the forrest when you're bumping into trees every time you turn around. Until and unless you get in the habit of thinking in terms of whole systems, it often helps to have someone else pull you out of the woods a bit so that you can identify where it is you want to go and compare it to where you're going.

Meadow offers several breadcrumb paths to start thinking about managing your system (summarized by Ross Mayfield, who aimed me at the article)...
(in increasing order of effectiveness):

12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards)

11. The size of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows

10. The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport network, population age structures)

9. The length of delays, relative to the rate of system changes

8. The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the impact they are trying to correct against

7. The gain around driving positive feedback loops

6. The structure of information flow (who does and does not have access to what kinds of information)

5. The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishment, constraints)

4. The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure

3. The goal of the system

2. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system - its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters - arise

1. The power to transcend paradigms
That last one -- the most powerful, by the way -- is the theme for the day. The ability and willingness to question what one is doing is the source of all improvement.

(Something tells me this is not going to be the last time you see the Meadow piece mentioned here. Plenty of good food for thought.)

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