The late Donella Meadows was a wonderful mix of business theorist, social scientist, and world citizen. As an early student of Jay Forrester at MIT, she was part of a team of academics and practitioners exploring the principals of complex systems (social systems, business systems, ecological systems). I keep returning to two of her essays as I struggle with the future of arts administration, so I thought I would include them here for others to read, as well.
The first is an excerpt from what was to be her last book, never completed. It describes the different worldview and life perspective required to know our place in a complex world. The full excerpt is here, but here’s a wonderful quote:
The second essay is a more practical approach to systems intervention. If we want to make a difference, she asks, what are our most powerful options? She goes on to list her choices, in reverse order according to their power and effectiveness (the full essay is available here):
8. Material stocks and flows.
7. Regulating negative feedback loops.
6. Driving positive feedback loops.
5. Information flows.
4. The rules of the system (incentives, punishment, constraints).
3. The power of self-organization.
2. The goals of the system.
1. The mindset or paradigm out of which the goals, rules, feedback structure arise.
Where on this list do your management team, your board of directors, your consultants, your funders, and your donors spend the most amount of energy these days? The purpose of this web site is to struggle (not solve, mind you, but struggle) with number 1.