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Leverage Points - Places to intervene in a system

Posted on by Brandon Klein

Places to Intervene in a System(in increasing order of effectiveness)9. Constants, parameters, numbers (subsi-dies, taxes, standards)8. Regulating negative feedback loops7. Driving positive feedback loops6. Material flows and nodes of materialintersection5. Information flows4. The rules of the system (incentives,punishments, constraints)3. The distribution of power over the rules ofthe system2. The goals of the system1. The mindset or paradigm out of which thesystem—its goals, power structure, rules,

its culture—arises

Folks who do systems analysis have a great
belief in “leverage points.” These are places
within a complex system (a corporation, an
economy, a living body, a city, an ecosys-
tem) where a small shift in one thing can
produce big changes in everything.
This idea is not unique to systems analy-
sis—it’s embedded in legend. The silver bul-
let, the trimtab, the miracle cure, the secret
passage, the magic password, the single hero
or villain who turns the tide of history. The
nearly effortless way to cut through or leap
over huge obstacles. We not only want to
believe that there are leverage points, we
want to know where they are and how to
get our hands on them. Leverage points are
points of power.
The systems analysis community has a
lot of lore about leverage points. Those of us
who were trained by the great Jay Forrester
at MIT have all absorbed one of his favorite
stories. “People know intuitively where
leverage points are,” he says. “Time after time
I’ve done an analysis of a company, and I’ve
figured out a leverage point—in inventory
policy, maybe, or in the relationship between
sales force and productive force, or in per-
sonnel policy. Then I’ve gone to the com-
pany and discovered that there’s already a lot
of attention to that point. Everyone is trying
very hard to push it
in the wrong direction
!”
Leverage Points:
Places to Intervene in a System
by Donella H. Meadows
The classic example of that backward
intuition was my own introduction to sys-
tems analysis, Forrester’s world model.
Asked by the Club of Rome to show how
major global problems—poverty and hun-
ger, environmental destruction, resource
depletion, urban deterioration, unemploy-
ment—are related and how they might be
solved, Forrester made a computer model
and came out with a clear leverage point:
Growth.
1
Not only population growth, but
economic growth. Growth has costs as well
as benefits, but we typically don’t count the
costs—among which are poverty and hun-
ger, environmental destruction, and so on—
the whole list of problems we are trying to
solve with growth! What is needed is much
slower growth, and in some cases no growth
or negative growth.
The world’s leaders are correctly fixated
on economic growth as the answer to virtu-
ally all problems, but they’re pushing with
all their might in the wrong direction.