Systems Thinking Tips #3- System Archetype Traps


Delays , nonlinearities , lack of firm boundaries and other properties of systems that surprise us are found in just about any system, Generally they are not properties that can or should be changed. The world is non-linear

Donella Meadows

Whilst dealing with systems there will be often many times that you will see them be non-linear in nature. Trying to solve them with linearity often as times is just an administrative convenience and nothing more.

System troubles are mostly unique in nature and such common problematic behaviors are known as archetypes. In context to management and system design, you will see two dominant archetypes that we should be aware of

  • Tragedy of Commons
  • Seeking the wrong goal
  • Drift to low performance
  • Escalation

Understanding archetypal problem-generating structures are not enough. Putting with them is impossible. They need to be changed. The destruction they caused is often blamed on particular actors or events although it is actually a consequence of system structure. Blaming, disciplining, firing, and making fevered changes to the policy framework will never fix this. This is what is described as archetype traps.

So what can we do about them?

In simple terms, when we start changing our approach to being systems thinkers, we will and should develop the look-ahead approach that helps us to see things in advance and not get caught by them. This is an important skill that can not be taught but only through experience and doing more, one hones it to make it effective. The more exposure you have to systems, and keep this in the back of your mind, you will see that every next move is following a reinforcing loop, making you better at identifying these traps.

When we talk in my upcoming post, we will get the concepts from Feedback tips and Solving problems creatively to converge with the identification of archetypes traps to create a blueprint of sorts for solving problems with a systems mindset.

Keep watching this space!

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