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The Power of Systems Thinking

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The Power of Systems Thinking

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Gregory Hennessy shares an evergreen article on the structure of power and how it is affected by systems thinking.

How is it that those with power seem to gain even more of it over time? And why do the disadvantaged seem to lose what little power they have, becoming increasingly reliant on those in positions of influence? If these dynamics are based on either divine or natural law, as some might suppose, then nothing can be done to change them—which is convenient if you’re one of the powerful. But if you believe this pattern of behavior can be changed, then you need to understand what drives it.

A system’s structure—its parts and how they interact—determines how the system as a whole behaves. If you want to know why you can’t take a sports car off-road, then look at its parts and how they work together. A sports car’s tires and suspension are designed for taking tight turns and fast acceleration, not to power through mud and over rocks and other obstacles. Structure is easiest to see in physical objects like vehicles, but it is equally true of social systems.

A given structure produces similar behavior, regardless of the specific system in which it is found. And when the same patterns of parts and interrelationships show up in a wide variety of systems, they are called archetypes.

As described by these references and others, a relatively small number of archetypes can be used to explain an astonishingly wide range of system behaviors. The classic Success to the Successful archetype describes the structure that leads to the accumulation of opportunity and power for some and its decline for others.

 In two decades of teaching systems thinking, I have described this archetype in countless workshops. One of my favorite narratives goes something like this:

Key points include:

  • Staffing processes

  • Systems structure

  • Power influences

Read the full article, Power to the Powerful, on Linkedin.