A social system — often referred to as human system — can be seen as a purposeful web of social relationships and agreements. Our social systems are all around us. They vary widely in size and complexity – from families, communities and neighborhoods to corporations, industries, governments and regions. We each belong to multiple social systems. We’re born into, live within and die as members of our social systems. In a way, they are to us as water is to a fish — invisible and indescribable, yet absolutely essential. However, fish didn’t invent water. Nor can they change their water. We, humans, invented our social systems. Mostly man invented them. We can reinvent them if we so choose. We can change our water. We assert that now is the time to so choose. Now is the time to make the big leap.
The assertion that “All social systems are perfectly designed… to get the results they get” is a powerful reframer. We see two categories of results from our global collection of social systems: Intended and Unintended. If we want different results, it seems imperative that we must first intend, then design for those results.
Let’s first zoom in on the Intended Results.
As you can see, this is a mixed bag. Most all of our social systems were created with reasonably humane intentions. Some not.
Many of the items in the Unintended Results circle are what socio/ecological scientists call “Slow Variables.” Slow variables are key controlling variables, frequently not on the radar until we in trouble. These variables have thresholds. When a threshold is crossed, it behaves in a different way, and may not be reversible. Our social systems were not designed to be accountable for these variables.
Susan Louise Harris and Kit Ratcliff have been introducing me (Bill Veltrop) to Resilience Thinking. It’s been eye-opening and highly relevant to our mission.