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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.

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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.

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As you can see, this is a mixed bag.  Most all of our social systems were created with reasonably humane intentions. Some not.

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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 Veltropto Resilience Thinking. It’s been eye-opening and highly relevant to our mission.

  • Resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure.
  • Increasingly, cracks are appearing in the capacity of our communities, ecosystems, and landscapes to provide the goods and services that sustain our well-being.
  • Our resource base, planet earth, is shrinking while our population continues to expand.
  • Each of these “slow variables” is degrading the well-being of life on our planet.
  • Our ecological, social and economic systems are highly interdependent and intertwined.
  • These intertwined systems are like a boat at sea, constantly confronted with surprise events such as storms. The degradation of these slow variables is reducing our “freeboard,” our ability to survive these storms.
  • Our culture is fixated on fast variables, mostly those that are measured and monetized.
  • Our social systems not designed to measure/track/be accountable for these “Slow Variables”
  • Our collective social systems seem perfectly designed for what could become devastatingly finite global game.

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