Place a rubber band on your desk. What happens if you pull it? It follows in the direction of the pull, and roughly maintains its shape. Now hold the other side when you pull. The harder you pull, the more tension you create. The rubber band wants to return to its original shape. What happens if you pull it hard enough? It breaks.
You’ve probably been shown this before. The rubber band is great example of a system, and it is a very helpful analogy when teaching people how change in organizations works.
I’m inviting you to apply this concept on a larger scale to the world around you. Because it turns out, almost everything represents a system of some sort. Your body, your family, your organization, your yard, your community, your government, your universe.
A friend of mine found religion and got sober. This should have saved his marriage, put his family back together, right? Wrong. After 7 years of sobriety, his marriage was almost unretrievable. His teenage daughter was pregnant. He was 50 years old, and wondering why doing all the right things was resulting in so many problems. I told him about the rubber band. He had changed for the better, but he never considered how much tension that change placed on his family as a system. It takes time, and care, to change a system, and all the parts have to change, not just the part that was “broken.”
He shared this new perspective with his wife, courted her, and spent a lot of time focused on her instead of himself, helping her to finally navigate the change that her family had undergone. One year later, their marriage was much stronger, just in time for a diagnosis of breast cancer, when she needed that friendship more than ever before in her life. 15 years later, they are a healthy, loving family.
Finding religion, eating right, taking the initiative at work — all sorts of positive behaviors can fail to bring about the intended results, and may even create unexpected and complex problems. I’m going to blog about systems a lot more. Today, I just wanted to introduce the idea, and start you thinking. What difficulties are you experiencing now that might be easier to understand from a systems perspective?