Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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Systems Dynamics study of “less trains when incidents means more incidents” #stwg #systemsthinking #systemsdynamics

Autumn is traditionally a season where suburbs trains have problems. There are a few reasons for that, including leaves on the rails (I found an official flyer explaining the process of which I’ll talk someday).

I’ve come to notice that very often, once there’s an incident on a line (someone using emergency signal thus causing a train to stop), other trains are unscheduled. Indeed, I think this is worsening the situation (escalation of incidents) resulting in possibly more incidents, up to a point where the traffic being stopped for too long, people who are blocked in a train open the doors and walk on the rails, thereby causing the whole traffic to Paris (yes, I’m in France) to come to a total halt for obvious security reasons.

Until this extreme situation (that happens once or twice a year), there are intermittent problems that the attached Systems Dynamics diagram tries to clarify. For my knowledgeable readers, it’s two intertwined archetypes: a “fix that fail” with a “shifting the burden“. Here’s why.

  • R1: First, there’s a train incident that cause trains to be late. With late trains, there is an increase of people waiting on the platforms to board the next train. Of course, the more there are people waiting, the more there is a risk of incident in the next trains, thereby increasing the number of train incidents.
  • B3: When trains are late, that increases the perceived complexity of traffic because the whole schedules have to be changed. So of course, an immediate and symptomatic answer is to reduce the number of trains in circulation thereby reducing the perceived complexity of traffic. This response is somewhat natural, but as we see next, it is a “fix that fail’ archetype.
  • R2: by reducing the number of trains in circulation, there is an opposite increase of the number of people waiting on the platforms for next trains, thereby increasing the risk of train incidents: we’re back into R1. The intended fix failed, thereby worsening the situation!

So we see that this first loops (R1-R2-R3) form a fix that fail archetype. Now I want to show how that situation is perpetuating itself through a “shifting the burden” archetype. Let’s continue the investigation:

  • B4: when the perceived complexity of traffic increases, so does the learning to manage complexity, which would, after some delay, decrease the perceived complexity of traffic.
  • R5: of course, with an increase in learning to manage complexity, the number of train in circulation could increase, thereby decreasing the number of people waiting for the next train and then reducing too the risk of incidents.

B3-B4-R5 form that ‘shifting the burden” archetype where there’s a strong incentive to reduce the perceived complexity by reducing the number of train (short-term, symptomatic response) which reduce the possibility of train controllers to learn how to manage complexity (longer term, better, response). Further, that short-term, symptomatic response is a “fix that fail” in that it worsen the situation by increasing incidents, thus trains late, perceived complexity of traffic and thus increasing pressure on controllers to further reduce the number of running trains.


Hopefully, there’s an unintended beneficial consequence for myself: being blocked in a train is free time to read more systems thinking books!

What to do? Well, I think one of the leverage points resides in the traffic controllers increasing their learning from complexity, but they would need to be aware of the situation first.

Also, I haven’t modelled the security measures that further makes controllers wanting to reduce the number of trains, but it’s acting in a similar way as B3. Yet, for the same reason, more people waiting makes for more incidents and thus a decreased security.

To me, the solution to less incidents (thus improved security) is to have more trains, which would mean more complexity, but traffic controllers would get a chance to learn from it, thereby making them able to sustain a dense enough traffic in case of incidents.

I’ll try to have that essay covertly sent to Transilien for their consideration…


Clay Shirky: How the Internet will (one day) transform government @TED #video

September 26th, 2012 Posted in Systems Thinking Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve just watched this great video on TED: Clay Shirky: How the Internet will (one day) transform government | Video on

What I find interesting is that tools such as GitHub allows for a perfect collaboration among people to build the best possible Systems Thinking view of any issue, by drawing in any stakeholder and have them sharing their own view.

Of course there are other online collaboration tools (like etherpad, Rizzoma or Debategraph for instance), but I have yet to find some that allow for clearly identifying, then reconciling different contributions.

How to concretely achieve this has yet to be thought out, but I promise you to give it a shot.

n’ergotons plus, je vous prie at light matters – A Laws of Form comics #lof #stwg

September 7th, 2012 Posted in Systems Thinking Tags: , , ,

I’m not sure I understand it all, but, since I’ve been looking around George Spencer-Brown Laws of form since quite some time, I will ponder this… well… comics?

n’ergotons plus, je vous prie at light matters.

I’m wondering if there’s a deliberate link between DSRP concepts as feature on Thinking at every desk and LOF…


Gordon Pask works (#systemsthinking #stwg)

July 13th, 2012 Posted in Systems Thinking Tags: , , , , ,

This is mostly a note to self regarding that host of Gordon Pask works available on Internet. More to read later (as if I needed this more!)

Wikipedia quote:

Andrew Gordon Speedie Pask (June 28, 1928, Derby – March 29, 1996, London) was an English cybernetician and psychologist who made significant contributions to cyberneticsinstructional psychology, experimental epistemology and educational technology.


What is Ross Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety? (#systemsthinking background material)

This is a concept that I’m using since quite some time now and that I seemed to understand rather intuitively though, necessarily at a general level.

What it basically says is that for a controller to remove noise from a signal, it needs to have a minimum variety that depends on the signal it needs to remove noise from and the variety of the result that it deems Good. Which Ross Ashby summarized as “only variety can kill variety“, where the killing part was about killing the variety of noise. Read more »

#Systems #dynamics reading of #linkedin (big) groups moderation effects (#stwg #systemsthinking)

Here’s a thinking of mine I had the other day regarding group with a high number of members and a (strong) moderation of new discussion topics. That group which I am referring to is Systems Thinking World on LinkedIn.

Here’s the message I sent to the group owner and moderation, Gene, also owner of the fantastic Systems Wiki website.

As promised, here’s what came to my mind when I complained regarding your strict moderation rules. It’s quite of a big diagram, so here’s my try at explaining what happens. Hope it’s clear otherwise please ask for clarification. Though my own conclusion is clear: please create an unmoderated subgroup 🙂 Read more »

Rio+20, #sustainability & the commons: tragedy of the commons at 3 levels (#systemsthinking #stwg)

As my readers may know, I’m a member of the Systems Thinking World LinkedIn discussion group and there’s a running thread regarding that United Nations call from Secretary General Ban Ki Moon about some revolutionary thinking to get the global economy out of the marsh it is now.

Thanks to that (long) thread, I’ve been acquainted with various initiatives, one of them being that of The School of Commoning. One of their home page blog article is about a Tragedy of the Commons identified following the Rio+20 UN world conference recently.

Indeed, I identified not one, not two, but three Tragedy of the Commons happening regarding these sustainability issues, though not all at the same level, but probably reinforcing the whole problem at a bigger level (haven’t modelled that from a higher level, though, someone ought to do it. Volunteers, somewhere?). They are:

  1. Fight for usage of non renewable resources (or commons)
  2. Fight for monetization of non renewable resources (or commons)
  3. Fight for control over the non renewable resources (or commons)

Let’s review them each in turn…

Read more »

Thinking about Rio+20: who owns the Green Economy? | Opinion | Whitsunday Times

I read the paper here: Rio+20: who owns the Green Economy? | Opinion | Whitsunday Times and I’m worried (also see the other document from the parallel People Summit at Rio “Another Future is Possible” which is referenced from that “Tragedy of the Commons” blog post of the School of Commoning).

I’m worried because, like so many expert advices in organizations and governments, it’s unheard by those in a position to lead the change. To the best case, it will end on presidential desks and maybe will be read by them. To the worst, it will be forgot or even fuel that “tragedy of the commons” we’re experiencing regarding ecology on a global level where the more pressing the situation is, the more pushy ecologically aware people will become, thereby making leaders resist.

To me, the problem is two-fold: 1) experts having a non systemic perspective and 2) experts  pushing leaders to change using fear.

Let’s look at these. Read more »

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