Back to top

Avoid Linear Thinking


I just came across this seminal article by Jay Forrester, whose thinking has influenced me in many areas of my life, including my affinity for systemic approaches to psychotherapy. He focuses on the non-linear behavior of social systems, but in fact one could argue that biological systems at every level behave as multi-loop, non-linear feedback systems.

The thermostat and your home heating/cooling system behave as a feedback system with only one "loop." The thermostat feeds back to the furnace or air conditioner according to the temperature it senses.

Building more and bigger roads to solve the problem of traffic congestion represents a linear approach to a social problem. The flaw comes to light when the "solution" just attracts more people to drive more cars on all those new roads.

Restrictive drug policy (prohibition) represents another failed linear approach. To fully address the problem a non-linear approach demands that we consider economic theory which predicts the development of a black market.

Discipline yourself to give up linear thinking in creating an approach to problems you see every day.