Systems Thinking For LIFE
Posted by Orrin Woodward on August 22, 2011
Here is a portion of the systems chapter in the new upcoming book, RESOLVED: 13 Resolutions for LIFE. Anyone who learns to think in systems will increase their ability to lead. Leadership is the new frontier and LIFE is on the leading edge, showing the way. Committed leaders do make a difference. Why sit around and be part of the problem when you can lead and be part of the solution. LIFE is forming a community of the latter group, those who want to be part of the solution. Enjoy. Sincerely, Orrin Woodward
The Butterfly Effect, a part of the Chaos Theory, confirms the massive results that slight changes can have when applied to a leverage point within a system. The butterfly effect is such that a butterfly flapping its wings has the capacity to change the initial atmospheric conditions enough to trigger a series of changes that compound into a hurricane on the other side of the world. The same effect applies to human affairs in that subtle adjustments in initial conditions can create profound differences in results. In fact, according to the University of Bath, it was through studying weather patterns that the Butterfly Effect was first expounded:
In 1960 a meteorologist named Edward Lorenz was researching into the possibilities of long term weather prediction. He created a basic computer program using mathematical equations which could theoretically predict what the weather might be. One day he wanted to run a particular sequence again, and to save time he started it from the middle of the sequence. After letting the sequence run he returned to find that the sequence had evolved completely different from the original. At first he couldn’t comprehend such different results but then realized that he had started the sequence with his recorded results to 3 decimal places, whereas the computer had recorded them to 6 decimal places. As this program was theoretically deterministic we would expect a sequence very close to the original, however this tiny difference in initial conditions had given him completely different results.
Lorenz’s findings teach that slight changes running through complex systems compound over time, creating significant differences in results. For leaders who understand systems, a little extra “flapping of the wings” at key points of leverage can multiply with time creating major changes in the long-term outcomes. Although no one can predict the results in complex systems omnisciently (as in weather forecasting), leaders know that small variances in initial conditions can produce big differences in the finished products. History is filled with examples of how little incidences impacted the destiny of civilizations. The Great Courses series, taught by historian J. Rufus Fears, dramatizes this point:
January 10, 49 B.C.: Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon River into Rome, igniting a civil war that leads to the birth of the world’s greatest ancient civilization.
October 12, 1492: The Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus, weary after months at sea, finally drops anchor at the island of San Salvador and takes Europe’s first steps into the New World.
September 11, 2001: On a calm Tuesday morning, a series of terrorist attacks on the United States of America ignites a global war on terrorism that continues to this day.
History is made and defined by landmark events such as these—moments that irrevocably changed the course of human civilization. While many of us are taught that anonymous social, political, and economic forces are the driving factors behind events of the past, acclaimed historian and award-winning Professor J. Rufus Fears believes that it’s individuals, acting alone or together, who alter the course of history. These events have given us
* spiritual and political ideas,
* catastrophic battles and wars,
* scientific and technological advances,
* world leaders both influential and monstrous, and
* cultural works of unparalleled beauty.
Without them, human history as we know it today would be shockingly unfamiliar. It’s because of these events that our world will never be the same again.