Last Updated on December 5, 2023

Systemic problems and leverage points

Some of our problems are easy to solve.

Others are more systemic, having many interconnected parts.

People often think that systemic problems are “impossible” to resolve.

But they only seem impossible when thinking in terms of linear causation.

If we think in terms of feedback loops, often there is a leverage point that can lead to quick and easy change.

It’s a Circle, not a Line

People often want to know what’s the one cause of their problem.

This assumes a number of things.

One is that there is only one cause!

Another is that it’s a straight line, X causes Y.

But most of our tricky problems are more like a circle.

It’s X causes Y which causes Z which causes X.

In other words, it’s a feedback loop.

The Solution Causes the Problem

Take the example of someone who is stressed at work.

They come home and have half a dozen beers to relax.

But drinking so much causes them to have a hangover in the morning.

Having a hangover makes the work more stressful.

X causes Y causes Z causes X again, in one closed loop.

In this case, drinking is actually an attempted solution to the problem of work stress.

But the attempted solution causes more stress!

Getting Leverage

The solution is to do something different that disrupts the feedback loop.

For example, if one could get a totally different job that wasn’t so stressful.

Then there would be no reason to drink so much.

Or maybe the stress comes from not saying “no” at work.

And having better boundaries, not taking on too much, would reduce stress.

Or maybe one takes up bodybuilding or yoga at night instead of drinking.

And becoming dedicated to fitness, it doesn’t make sense to “ruin one’s gains” by drinking so much.

The key takeaway here is to find some leverage point.

That’s some place where it’s easy to change the whole system.

You’ll know when you’ve found the leverage point because if feels easy!

This may take some experimentation.

Your first try may not work.

But with a curious, patient, and persistent attitude, amazing things are possible.

Mapping out the system in a feedback loop diagram can help.

Getting support or coaching can also help a lot!

Often we can’t see outside of our own feedback loops, but others can see them clearly.

Take care,
~Duff