Systems Thinking

If I could teach my younger self one thing, it would be this: If you’re trying to make a sustainable change in yourself or the world, you need a system for doing so.

The world is a collection of interdependent systems. And when we think holistically about how those systems interact, we’re able to bring about more meaningful change.

On the individual level, if you’re trying to get more exercise, you're more likely to achieve your goal if you block off times a week in advance for each workout, decide what your plan for each one is, and tell a friend you'll buy them dinner every time you miss one.

By creating a specific structure and establishing social support, you can systematically set yourself up for success.

This is true on the societal level as well. When we invest in summer youth employment programs, crime in our communities goes down. And when crime goes down, people are more likely to start businesses in those neighborhoods, which create more jobs. The taxes from that increased economic activity can be reinvested in those summer jobs, and so on.

If this sounds like a flywheel, that's because it is. Ultimately, our ability to create long-term progress boils down to creating the right systems for doing so.

So if there’s already a system in place, but it's not working, make it better. And if there isn’t, make one up.

See also: System Design


Weekly thoughts on creating systems to sustainably grow your impact on the world.
Email address