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Are we doomed to repeat subprime crises – or could we manage better?

Posted on: November 13, 2009

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Subprime crises ~ again?

Umair Haque‘s article in the Harvard Business blog of yesterday nudged me to think through Donella Meadows 12 levers to change a system.

Umair thinks a lot of activity in Web2.0, or social media, is little more than a “sub-prime crisis”.  And implicitly, he argues that we will continue to have sub-prime crises until we improve our moral and ethic act.

I think we will continue to have sub-prime crises because it is possible for sub-prime crises to happen. What is possible is possible. We don’t control everything!

But we also don’t have to lurch from crisis to crisis.

Managing systems is a little more than just managing

My argument though is that we have to think more clearly.

  • We can think about systems as systems.
  • We can watch that we don’t confuse our individual behavior with system behavior.
  • We can understand the linkages between our individual behavior and system behavior ~ and work clearly on the linkages without confusing these with our emotional reactions to changes in system behavior.

Sadly, few of us are educated in systems thinking. Even fewer are fluent.

In the management world, we have long separated the work of the line (the people who do work) – from managers (the people who make the system) – from staff (the people who manage the managers).

  • It is very necessary for managers to think clearly about systems without  muddle the overall effect with what any one of us does. The art of management is also leveraging without exaggerating or underestimating any of levers.
  • And the staff – the managers of the managers – have their role in training managers and holding up a mirror of their behavior so they have accurate and timely feedback.

Next step in clarifying my thinking about systems

My next step is to review my current think with what Donella Meadows wrote on managing systems.

The subprime crisis is a good impetus to check the quality of our systems thinking!

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