Leverage Points

🌱 2022-11-10

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.

From Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System

The classic example of that backward intuition was my own introduction to systems analysis, the world model. Forrester made a computer model and came out with a clear leverage point: Growth. Counterintuitive. That’s Forrester’s word to describe complex systems. Leverage points are not intuitive. Or if they are, we intuitively use them backward, systematically worsening whatever problems we are trying to solve.

So one day I was sitting in a meeting about how to make the world work better — actually it was a meeting about how the new global trade regime, NAFTA and GATT and the World Trade Organization, is likely to make the world work worse. The more I listened, the more I began to simmer inside. “This is a HUGE NEW SYSTEM people are inventing!” I said to myself. “They haven’t the SLIGHTEST IDEA how this complex structure will behave,” myself said back to me. “It’s almost certainly an example of cranking the system in the wrong direction — it’s aimed at growth, growth at any price!! And the control measures these nice, liberal folks are talking about to combat it — small parameter adjustments, weak negative feedback loops — are PUNY!!!”


    1. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards).
    1. The sizes of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows.
    1. The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport networks, population age structures).
    1. The lengths of delays, relative to the rate of system change.
    1. The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the impacts they are trying to correct against.
    1. The gain around driving positive feedback loops.
    1. The structure of information flows (who does and does not have access to information).
    1. The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishments, constraints).
    1. The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure.
    1. The goals of the system.
    1. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises.
    1. The power to transcend paradigms.

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