Systems Thinking Class Activity and Leverage Points

This morning we ran a bit of an experiment in my Systems Thinking class (mostly sophomore level undergrads).  This comes from the Meadows “Systems Playbook” text.  We formed two groups for ease of organizing.  One group of 8 was run by my TA.  I ran another group of 26.  We gave everyone a number and then had them select two other students as the “reference points”.  However, we gave them some stipulations.  First, if their own number was an odd number, they had to select Student Two.  Second, no one was allowed to select any of the three students wearing red shirts (my randomizing process for my group of 26).

We then asked them to move around until they were equidistant from their two reference points.  Before moving we discussed as a group what they thought would happen.  (Perhaps ask yourself the same question before reading ahead).  When they started moving, it took a couple minutes of shuffling around, bumping into each other, getting a tad too close, etc before settling into a stable formation.

Next, we had everyone return to the circle.  We then ran the same experiment except that when I said “stop”  the three Red Shirts  stopped moving while everyone else continued.   When the others settled into a formation, I said “go” and the Red Shirts moved again.  At this point there was a minor amount of shuffling around, but because none of these three could serve as reference points for others, they made very little difference on the rest of the group.

We returned to our original circle and ran this game a third time.  This time I randomly selected 3 people plus Participant 2 (the reference for the odd numbered participants).  When I said “stop”, these four stopped.  Once the formation emerged, I then said “go” to the four that I had stop earlier.  Because of Participant Two’s high leverage, the system had to reorganize substantially before coming to a halt again.

Finally, we ran the first treatment again with one exception.  This time we added a three second delay between when their reference moved and when they responded.  This caused quite a commotion and the delay kept the system from “equilibrating” in a reasonable amount of time.

This little adventure took about 20 minutes.  At that point, we went back to the classroom and discussed leverage points in systems and related it back to that day’s reading and how these concepts manifest themselves in the experiment.

I highly recommend it.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by roger on September 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    less than 17 years to Meadows’ economic collapse – better start ‘prepping’


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