#systemschange: the dangers of over-correcting in a good cause

Benjamin P. Taylor
3 min readJun 29, 2022

If you want to save the world, run a business in a better way, help people with creativity, innovation, or generally create a better future…

…you need to go beyond correcting the way things are currently done, and shine a light on yourself, too.

As a world, we need to get the point that things are, in fact, connected — summed up in the famous phrase:

‘you can’t ‘throw things away’ because there is no ‘away’’.

Lacking appreciation of this point — and not understanding it looks very much like being deliberately exploitative — is at the heart of many many problems in this world.

As early as the 1820s it was theorised that the earth’s temperature might be regulated by the atmosphere. This was proved forty years later, and a famous 1912 article raised the issue of climate change.

See this amazing twitter thread: https://twitter.com/backwards_river/status/789634418432323585

The same logic underlies colonialism, ecosystem destruction, extractive capitalism and labour exploitation.

Acting as if the parts were separate from the whole has terrible results.

So much of ‘systems thinking’ is focused on this.

The problem is that when rush in to correct this error, we are likely to create some new problems:

1- we build a new model — but it inevitably comes out of the current way of thinking, the current worldview.

As creatures living in a world of separation and cutting off of connections, our ‘systems maps’ echo this state.

There are now many ‘web3’ attempts to create ‘systems’ which recognise and fund the role of particular animals, or of soil, in our ecosystem. And they are trying to do that by putting a monetary value on what plants and fungi and soil do. There’s a problem there.

2- so our world tends to commit the error of not ‘seeing the system’. We then commit the opposite error — we believe we see ‘the system’. But we are only seeing our model.

3- then we create a system of superiority — those of us who *can* ‘see the system’ are obviously morally superior to the rest. In the past week alone, I’ve seen

  • another table where the left hand column lists the ‘old, bad’ and the right hand lists the ‘new, good’
  • another grid (with fancy spirals!) where the bottom left is ‘limited, destructive’ and the top right is ‘creative, enabling’

4- we then make the mistake of ‘making people be wrong’, as Graham Leicester says.

How will running around telling people they belong in the bad box and you belong in the good box work out?

Finally, we almost inevitably get the actual thinking and modelling wrong, even from the current worldview — lack of detail, clarity, analysis (perhaps because we put ‘analysis’ in the box marked ‘wrong’).

The ‘answer’ is not in the reductive way of thinking, and there isn’t a panacea in a ‘new’ holistic model either.

We need ways of working which draw on both, emphasise rigour, human connection, testing in the real world, shared learning, work on purpose, framing, and identity (and arrogance and ignorance — especially your own).

What’s your perspective?