EA Backgrounder
Systems Thinking Archetype - Escalation


Several years ago in my eNewsletter "Advocacy Update I ran a series of observations on the 8 Systems Thinking Archetypes. The process of systems thinking is deceptively simple. First you specify the problem/issue to be addressed, second you construct a hypothesis or model. You then test that hypothesis and consequently implement change where indicated.


Of course, as with most simple concepts, things are not quite that easy! Different thinking skills are required for each part of the process as shown below:
  • Specifying the problem
    • Dynamic thinking (patterns of behaviour over time)
    • System-as-cause thinking (this describes the scope of the project)
    • "Forest" thinking (this is the view from above - to gain better perspective)
  • Constructing the model
    • Operational thinking (seeing the causality of an issue)
    • Closed-loop thinking (linking causality to an ongoing, interdependent process rather than as a one time occurrence)
    • Quantitative thinking (quantifying the issues - but not necessarily "measuring" them)
  • Testing the model
    • Scientific thinking (seeking to find high-leverage intervention points

So - lets look at one of the systems archetypes which is particularly relevant to our political system of adversarial Government versus Opposition. 


political escalation
Political Escalation
It's known as the "Escalation" model - see diagram above. The author of this version of the model states that:
"The positive feedback around violent rhetoric create a societal trap, from which it may be difficult to extricate ourselves. If there's a general systems insight about vicious cycles, it's that the best policy is prevention - just don't start down that road.
Politicians who engage in violent rhetoric, or other races to the bottom of the intellectual barrel, risk starting a very destructive spiral"

Another diagrammatic way of viewing this phenomenon is shown from my earlier article.



Unfortunately just as it takes two to tango it also takes two to deescalate - not likely given our current state of politics. Were they ever to consider doing the impossible, the following steps would provide a solution:

  • Who are the parties whose actions are perceived as threats? 
  • What is being threatened & what is the source of that threat?
  • What is the measure pitting you against the other party - and can you change it?
  • What systemic delays are there which could distort the true nature of the threat?
  • Is there a larger goal which can encompass the disparate individual goals?
  • What are the deep-rooted assumptions that lie beneath the actions taken in response to the threat?  

Meanwhile Rome burns.

As always - feedback is most welcome. 

Cheers for now
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