Example of biological system
Flickr: Uploaded on June 23, 2007 by V i l l a n u e v a
Flickr: Uploaded on February 11, 2005 by DogFromSPACE
human/mechanical systems (for example, riding a bicycle)
Flickr: Uploaded on January 31, 2009 by bichxa
ecological systems (for example, predator/prey)
Flickr: Uploaded on June 12, 2006 by TangoPango
social systems (for example, groups, supply and demand and also friendship)
Flickr: Uploaded on June 2, 2007 by Jayel Aheram
Systems – What’s in Common? Flickr: Uploaded on September 10, 2007 by
• Every system has a purpose within a larger system. Example: The purpose of the
R&D department in your organizaIon is to generate new product ideas and features
for the organizaIon.
FighRng in North Kivu is threatening the lives of children. Tens of thousands of
children have been displaced in the last weeks, in the confusion of ﬂight children have
been separated from their parents. Already malnourished children are now even
more vulnerable. In the crowded makeshi camps measles and cholera are growing
dangers. Thousands of children are unable to start the school year. Armed groups are
using at least a 1000 children and more are being recruited.
UNICEF, through a network of partners, is assisRng 60,000 people around Muganga
and Minova in the Kivus. UNICEF is idenRfying separated children and reunifying
them with their families. Rape survivors are being given medical and psychosocial
support. Clean water distribuRon and latrines have been set up. Displaced families
have received temporary shelter materials, bedding and cooking sets. All children
under the age of 14 are being vaccinated against measles and pregnant women
against neo natal tetanus. 2000 children have been screened for malnutriRon.
Emergency educaRon programmes have started.
UNICEFs partners are AVSI, Caritas, the InternaRonal Rescue Commi`ee, Heal Africa,
the Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children UK, Solidarités, World Vision
InternaRonal and the provincial health service of the DemocraRc Republic of Congo.
UNICEF has assisted 350,000 displaced persons since the start of ﬁghRng in Sake last
November. UNICEFs acRons are part of a coordinated response with other UN
organizaRons; Oﬃce CoordinaRon for Humanitarian Aﬀairs, United NaRons High
Commission for Refugees, World Food Programme, World Health OrganisaRon & The 8
Mission of the United NaRons in the DemocraRc Republic of Congo.
Despite all this the majority of displaced persons remain inaccessible due to the
Systems – What’s in Common? Flickr: Uploaded on March 5, 2006 by blackholeSleep :
Flickr Uploaded on April 28, 2009 by Tasa_M
• All of a system's parts must be present for the system to carry out its purpose
opImally. Example: The R&D system in your organizaIon consists of people,
equipment, and processes. If you removed any one of these components, this
system could no longer funcIon.
Systems – What’s in Common? Flickr: Uploaded on September 6, 2005 by Mal Cubed
We dissected the caterpillar form of Manduca sexta (also known as the Sphinx moth
or the Tobacco worm) I believe this is the ﬁrst abdominal ganglion.
• A system's parts must be arranged in a speciﬁc way for the system to carry out its
purpose. Example: If you rearranged the reporIng relaIonships in your R&D
department so that the head of new‐product development reported to the entry‐
level lab technician, the department would likely have trouble carrying out its
Systems – What’s in Common? Flickr: Uploaded on December 23, 2008 by boltron‐ At
a rest stop on highway 40 outside of Gallup, New Mexico.
• Systems change in response to feedback. The word feedback plays a central role in
systems thinking. Feedback is informaIon that returns to its original transmiSer
such that it inﬂuences that transmiSer's subsequent acIons. Example: Suppose you
turn too sharply while driving your car around a curve. Visual cues (you see a
mailbox rushing toward you) would tell you that you were turning too sharply.
These cues consItute feedback that prompts you to change what you're doing (jerk
the steering wheel in the other direcIon somewhat) so you can put your car back
Systems – What’s in Common?
Flickr: Uploaded on January 18, 2009 by BrotherMagneto
• Systems maintain their stability by making adjustments based on feedback.
Example: Your body temperature generally hovers around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you get too hot, your body produces sweat, which cools you back down.
Circles of causality
The basic idea of system thinking is that every acRon triggers a reacRon. In
system dynamics this reacRon is called feedback. There are two types of feedback ‐
reinforcing feedback and balancing feedback. SomeRmes a feedback (or a reacRon)
does not occur immediately ‐ the process contains delays. Any system can be drawn
as a diagram set up with circles of causality – including acRons, feedbacks and delays.
 Reinforcing feedback (+)
Reinforcing feedback (or amplifying feedback) accelerates the given trend of a
process. If the trend is ascending, the reinforcing (posiRve) feedback will accelerate
the growth. If the trend is descending, it will accelerate the decline. Falling of an
avalanche is an example of the reinforcing feedback process. 
 Balancing feedback (‐)
Balancing feedback (or stabilizing feedback) will work if any goal‐state exists.
Balancing process intends to reduce a gap between a current state and a desired
state. The balancing (negaRve) feedback adjusts a present state to a desirable target
regardless whether the trend is descending or ascending. An example of the
balancing feedback process is staying upright on bicycle (when riding). 
Systems Thinking Tools: Archetypes: Fixes That Fail
Flickr: Uploaded on March 6, 2009 by neolibertariandotcom
Near Sighted Success: Radio Rush Helps Out In the short term, you can think about it like this:
The Democrats get more power (top)
This increases the level of talk radio hysteria against Democrats using scare tacRcs, name calling, and
This increases the appeal of Republican candidates or, if you want to look at it the other way around, it
mobilizes the base to vote for Republican candidates they don’t parRcularly like which leads to more
The Republicans get more support, so they get more power which reduces the “problem” of the
Democrats getng more power that we started with . . .
This is great and it looked like it could last forever (anyone sRll remember Karl Rove and the
“permanent majority”?). In the short term, Rush was part of the Republican soluRon, but in the long
term, Rush became part of the Republican problem.
Rush Is Not The Guy For A Long Run . . .
Let’s look at the same short term loop above but let’s add a long term loop to the diagram:When we
look at the long run, we see the same short term loop but we also see another, slower loop.
Talk radio hysteria makes RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) more electable and re‐electable. When
every Senator and RepresentaRve is viewed as crucial to reducing Democrat power, there is enormous
pressure to elect and re‐elect RINOs.
This insulates RINOs from criRcism and a`ack from within the party and allows them to proliferate.
RINOs alienate the base and cannot broaden the party because they neither understand nor arRculate
Over Rme, the RINOs then destroy the Republican and ConservaRve brands with ﬁscal irresponsibility,
enRtlement programs, centralized federal control, and, more than anything else, the socialist bail out
programs iniRated under the Bush administraRon and supported by RINOs.
This brand destrucRon accumulates and eventually turns into a disaster at the polls, reducing
Republican support so far and so fast that the short term eﬀects of ever more hysterical criRcism of
Democrats cannot make up for it.
Systems thinking junkies will immediately recognize this as the “Fixes That Fail” archetype: a very
common condiRon where repeated use of a good short term ﬁx actually makes things worse in the
Archetypes: Shiing the Burden
How many Rmes have you noRced that you seem to solve the same problem over and over.
When the problem arises you address it, then some Rme later, maybe a day, a week, or a
month later the same problem arises again. This situaRon is quite oen the result of a
Shiing the Burden structure. In the above diagram a problem symptom is perceived with
mulRple possible courses of acRon. One course of acRon, the symptomaIc soluIon has an
apparent Rme frame advantage over the fundamental soluIon because of other associated
delay. As a result the problem symptom inﬂuences the applicaRon of the symptomaIc
soluIon. ApplicaRon of the symptomaIc soluIon reduces the problem symptom which
dissolves the perceived necessity of pursuing the fundamental soluIon. A failure to
implement the fundamental soluIon ensures that the problem symptom will return. Let's
face it, band aids on cut knees don't keep one from falling of bicycles.
As if this wasn't annoying enough, implementaRon of the symptomaIc soluIon oen, in
Rme, inﬂuences the development of unintended side eﬀects, which are oen further
preclude employing the fundamental soluIon. The interacRons between the problem
symptom, symptomaIc soluIon, side eﬀect, and fundamental soluIon form a viscous
reinforcing loop which make the real source of the problem, in Rme, even more diﬃcult to
When dealing with a problem ask yourself if you are treaRng the symptoms or addressing the
real cause of the problem. Oen ,out of expediency, the symptomaRc soluRon is essenRal.
The most eﬀecRve strategy for dealing with a Shiing the Burden structure is an employment
of the symptomaIc soluIon AND development of the fundamental soluIon. Thus one
resolves the immediate problem and works to ensure that it doesn't return.
Archetypes: Limits to Growth
The unprecedented growth is produced by a reinforcing feedback process unRl the
system reaches its peak. The halt of this growth is caused by limits inside or outside of
the system. However, if the limits are not properly recognized; the former methods
are conRnuously applied, but more and more aggressively. This results in the contrary
of the desired state ‐ a decrease of the system. The soluRon lies in the weakening or
eliminaRon of the cause of limitaRon. Example: dieRng, learning foreign languages