Some snippets from Thinking in Systems (first draft 1993, published posthumously 2008; Donella Meadows).
1/ The central insight of systems theory: Once we see the relationship between structure and behavior, we can begin to understand how systems work, what makes them produce poor results, and how to shift them into better behavior patterns.
2/ A great aspect is the use of analogies.

Modern systems theory, bound up with computers and equations, hides the fact that it traffics in truths known at some level by everyone. It is often possible, ... to make a direct translation from systems jargon to traditional wisdom.
3/ Ever since the Industrial Revolution, Western society has benefited from science, logic, and reductionism over intuition and holism. Psychologically and politically we would much rather assume that the cause of a problem is “out there,” rather than “in here.”
4/ If you look at that definition closely for a minute, you can see that a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose.
5/ Don't just look at elements, look at relationships.

You think that because you understand “one” that you must therefore understand “two” because one and one make two. But you forget that you must also understand “and.” —Sufi teaching story
6/ How to find out the purpose of a system:

Purposes are deduced from behavior, not from rhetoric or stated goals.

Same goes for company culture: it is what gets rewarded, promoted and celebrated not just what's stated.
7/ Why systems work well.

You may have observed these characteristics: resilience, self-organization, or hierarchy.

Placing a system in a straitjacket of constancy can cause fragility to evolve.

@nntaleb took it one step further with Antifragility - benefiting from shocks.
8/ Resilience is not the same thing as being static or constant over time. Resilient systems can be very dynamic. Short-term oscillations, or periodic outbreaks, or long cycles of succession, climax, and collapse may be normal which resilience tries to restore.
9/ Because resilience may not be obvious without a whole-system view, people often sacrifice resilience for stability, or for productivity, or for some other more immediately recognizable system property.
10/ Like resilience, self-organization is often sacrificed for purposes of short-term productivity and stability. Productivity and stability are the usual excuses for turning creative human beings into mechanical adjuncts to production processes.
11/ In the process of creating new structures and increasing complexity, one thing that a self-organizing system often generates is hierarchy.

Fleas all the way down. Fractal nature of things.
12/ Why systems surprise us.

The trouble . . . is that we are terrifyingly ignorant. The acquisition of knowledge always involves the revelation of ignorance. Our knowledge of the world instructs us first of all that the world is greater than our knowledge of it.
13/ The interactions between what I think I know about dynamic systems and my experience of the real world never fails to be humbling. They keep reminding me of three truths.
1. Everything we think we know about the world is a model.
2. Our models usually have a strong congruence with the world.
3. However, and conversely, our models fall far short of representing the world fully. That is why we make mistakes and why we are regularly surprised.
15/ How systems fools us.

Systems fool us by presenting themselves—or we fool ourselves by seeing the world—as a series of events. Events are the outputs, moment by moment, from the black box of the system.
16/ Additional reading, courtesy @farnamstreet and @nntaleb…
18/ It’s endlessly engrossing to take in the world as a series of events, constantly surprising, because that way of seeing the world has almost no predictive or explanatory value. Like the tip of an iceberg rising, events are the most visible aspect but not the most important.
19/ When a systems thinker encounters a problem, the first thing she does is look for data, the history of the system because long term behavior provides clues to the underlying system structure. And structure is the key to understanding not just what is happening, but why.
20/ And that’s one reason why systems of all kinds surprise us. We are too fascinated by the events they generate. We pay too little attention to their history andwe are insufficiently skilled at seeing in their history clues to the structures from which behavior and events flow.
21/ The lesson of boundaries is hard even for systems thinkers to get. There is no single, legitimate boundary to draw around a system. We have to invent boundaries for clarity and sanity; and boundaries can produce problems when we forget that we’ve artificially created them.
22/ When there are long delays in feedback loops, some sort of foresight is essential. To act only when a problem becomes obvious is to miss an important opportunity to solve the problem.
23/ Sounds like something @nntaleb would say.
24/ On interventionistas by @nntaleb:

Their three flaws: 1) They think in statics not dynamics, 2) they think in low, not high dimensions, 3) they think in actions, never interactions.…

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More from @Rahul_Ramc

Jun 23, 2019
A short summary of The Meridian of Her Greatness by Lou Keep.

This is about how we can reconcile economic prosperity with increasing discontent, what capitalism really means, why social protections hurt the economy & society and cause bigger problems…
Reconciling economic prosperity and discontent is difficult. People point to Trump/Brexit/Occupy as examples of anger. This fails to explain anything.

How do we explain their economic motivations? Is income/wealth inequality really the problem?
Polyani explains how we can reconcile the two using the idea of "economic prejudice". This has two parts.

1 - Wealth got redefined in terms of market value (property, wages) instead of traditional metrics (common land, social ties AND capital). Blurrier forms were excluded.
Read 18 tweets
May 25, 2019
Never thought my reading on the Himalayas and business will collide but given the recent Everest traffic jam image going viral, I'm going to do a thread explaining the evolution of the market for climbing Everest and some of the unintended consequences (e.g. traffic jams)
The race for climbing Everest coincided with the end of WW1 and the first expedition to recon Everest began in 1921, followed by a first attempt in 1922 and a second attempt in 1924.
The second attempt in 1924 is embedded in Everest folklore because Mallory and Irvine were last seen at the base of the final pyramid near summit and never returned.

Both of them were hailed as national heroes back in Britain.
Read 27 tweets
Mar 19, 2019
Information wants free, a thread:
Information like any other life form wants to reproduce and live. It does so via legibility.

Information is free only to the extent that it is legible by hosts.

Software eating the world is basically how information is forcing us to make legibility functions for everything.
How does information accelerate its discoverabilty?

By incentivising people to look for it.

Most of our media is incentivised by discovery of information, from the mundane to the obscure.
Read 20 tweets
Mar 3, 2019
In a post truth economy where there are no facts, people are free to choose narratives that help them avoid any dissonance.

People have always chosen self consistent beliefs and ego preservation over factual information but the lines are getting extremely blurred.
Going forward, everyone will be free to choose their own realities, echoed back to them by members of the in-group they choose to inhabit.

So much easier to do that now.
No amount of fact checkers, moderators or narrative controllers will be able to prevent reality from fracturing into pieces as desired by groups.

Coherent narratives across groups are a relic of the past now. We choose our own realities.
Read 14 tweets
Dec 26, 2018
Megathread on Girard and his ideas. With this, hopefully I'm ready to inhabit a new idea cloud.
2/ Before you proceed, some criticisms that you should be aware of.

Read 22 tweets
Dec 7, 2018
Mimetic desire (or triangular desire) and influence run the show at elite universities.

An object of desire becomes desirable by virtue of being desired by someone.

Add a pinch of scarcity effect, risk aversion and throw some money - you've got the perfect bait.
Aversion to failure (and more generally risk) is magnified in middle class indian kids because failure is associated with extreme shame.

The result - a risk averse generation that doesn't know what to do and thus follows the herd.
The resume arms race at IITs and IIMs is real. I'd promised myself in freshman year not to fall prey to it but ultimately I succumbed to peer pressure.

It's amazing what risk aversion and zero sum mentality can do to you.
Read 14 tweets

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