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Chapter 6: Natures Templates. Senge: Chapter 6 THE FIFTH DISCIPLINE. Nature’s Templates: the Archetypes. Structures of which we are unaware hold us prisoner The swimmer scenario Certain patterns of structure occur again and again: called ARCHETYPES. We are creating a “language”.

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chapter 6 natures templates

Chapter 6: Natures Templates

Senge: Chapter 6


nature s templates the archetypes
Nature’s Templates: the Archetypes
  • Structures of which we are unaware hold us prisoner
      • The swimmer scenario
  • Certain patterns of structure occur again and again: called ARCHETYPES
we are creating a language
We are creating a “language”
  • reinforcing feedback and balancing feedback are like the nouns and verbs
  • systems archetypes are the basic sentences
  • Behavior patterns appear again in all disciplines--biology, psychology, family therapy, economics, political science, ecology and management
  • Can result in the unification of knowledge across all fields
recurring behavior patterns
Recurring behavior patterns
  • Do we know how to recognize them?
  • Do we know how to describe them?
  • Do we know how to prescribe cures for them?
  • The ARCHETYPES describe these recurring behavior patterns
the archetypes
  • Provide leverage points, intervention junctures at which substantial change can be brought about
  • Put the systems perspective into practice
  • About a dozen systems ARCHETYPES have been identified
  • All ARCHETYPES are made up of the systems building blocks: reinforcing processes, balancing processes, delays
before attacking the archetypes we need to understand simple structures
Before attacking the ARCHETYPES we need to understand simple structures
  • The reinforcing feedback loop
  • The balancing feedback loop
archetype 1 limits to growth
  • A reinforcing process is set in motion to produce a desired result. It creates a spiral of success but also creates inadvertent secondary effects (manifested in a balancing process) that eventually slow down the success.
  • All growth will eventually run up against constraints, impediments
management principle relative to archetype 1
Management Principle relative to ARCHETYPE 1
  • Don’t push growth or success; remove the factors limiting growth
archetype 1 limits to growth9
  • Useful in all situations where growth bumps up against limits
  • Firms grow for a while, then plateau
  • Individuals get better for a while, then their personal growth slows.
  • Falling in love is kind of like this
      • The love begins to plateau as the couple get to know each other better

growing action

state of stock

slowing action



understanding the structure
Understanding the Structure
  • High-tech orgs grow rapidly because of their ability to introduce new products
  • This growth plateaus as lead times become too long
how to achieve leverage
How to achieve Leverage
  • Most managers react to the slowing growth by pushing harder on the reinforcing loop
  • Unfortunately, the more vigorously you push the familiar levels, the more strongly the balancing process resists, and the more futile your efforts become.
leverage continued
Leverage, Continued
  • Instead, concentrate on the balancing loop--changing the limiting factor
      • This is akin to Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints--remove the bottleneck, the impediment

Prepared by James R. Burns

applications to quality circles and jit
Applications to Quality Circles and JIT
  • Quality circles work best when there is even-handed emphasis on both balancing and reinforcing loops
  • JIT has had to focus on recalcitrant suppliers
      • When once source of limitation is removed, another will surface
  • Growth eventually WILL STOP
create your own limits to growth story
Create your own LIMITS TO GROWTH story
  • Identify a limits to growth pattern in your own experience
  • Diagram it
    • What is growing
    • What might be limitations
    • Example--the COBA and University capital campaigns
test your limits to growth model
Test your LIMITS TO GROWTH model
  • Talk to others about your perception
  • Test your ideas about leverage in small real-life experiments
  • Run and re-run the simulation model
  • Approach possible resistance and seek WIN-WIN strategies with them
archetype 2 shifting the burden
ARCHETYPE 2: shifting the burden
  • An underlying problem generates symptoms that demand attention. But the underlying problem is difficult for people to address, either because it is obscure or costly to confront. So people “shift the burden” of their problem to other solutions--well-intentioned, easy fixes that seem extremely efficient.
shifting the burden scenario continued
Shifting the burden scenario, continued
  • Unfortunately, the easier solutions only ameliorate the symptoms; they leave the underlying problem unaltered. The underlying problem grows worse and the system loses whatever abilities it had to solve the underlying problem.

Prepared by James R. Burns

the stereotype structure
The Stereotype Structure

Addictioin Loop





special case eroding goals
Special Case: Eroding Goals
  • Full employment meant 4% unemployment in the 1960s, but 6 to 7% unemployment in the early 1980’s
  • Gramm-Rudman bill called for reaching a balanced budget by 1991, but this was shifted to 1993 and from 1993 to 1996 and from 1996 to 1998
  • “If all else fails, lower your goals..”
another example
Another Example

Raise tuition, add course fees, etc.

Costs of Higher Ed not funded by State or Students

Perceived cost to the student


still another example
Still Another Example



Addiction Loop



still other problems
Still other Problems
  • What about retention of students
  • The perceived fix is raise the admission standards
  • What about drug-related crime
  • The perceived fix is to remove the drugs from the street
shifting the burden is an insidious problem
“Shifting the Burden” is an insidious problem
  • Is has a subtle reinforcing cycle
  • This increases dependence on the symptomatic solution
  • But eventually, the system loses the ability to apply the fundamental solution
  • The system collapses
senge says
Senge Says
  • Today’s problems are yesterday’s solutions
  • We tend to look for solutions where they are easiest to find
how to achieve leverage27
  • Must strengthen the fundamental response
    • Requires a long-term orientation and a shared vision
  • Must weaken the symptomatic response
    • Requires a willingness to tell the truth about these “solutions”
create your own shifting the burden story
Create your own “Shifting the Burden” Story
  • Is there a problem that is getting gradually worse over the long term?
  • Is the health of the system gradually worsening?
  • Is there a growing feeling of helplessness?
  • Have short-term fixes been applied?
      • The local Mexican restaurant problem of using coupons to generate business and then can’t get away from using the coupons because their customer base is hooked on coupons
to structure your problem
To structure your problem
  • Identify the problem
  • Next, identify a fundamental solution
  • Then, identify one or several symptomatic solutions
  • Finally, identify the possible negative “side effects” of the symptomatic solution
  • We have now seen two of the basic systems archetypes.
    • The Limits to Growth Archetype
    • The Shifting the Burden Archetype
  • As the archetypes are mastered, they become combined into more elaborate systemic descriptions.
  • The “sentences” become parts of paragraphs
  • The simple stories become integrated into more involved stories
seeing structures not just trees
Seeing Structures, not just Trees
  • Helps us focus on what is important and what is not
  • Helps us determine what variables to focus on and which to play less attention to
copyright c 2002 by james r burns
Copyright C 2002 by James R. Burns
  • All rights reserved world-wide. CLEAR Project Steering Committee members have a right to use these slides in their presentations. However, they do not have the right to remove this copyright or to remove the “prepared by….” footnote that appears at the bottom of each slide.

Prepared by James R. Burns

Prepared by James R. Burns