In Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Donella Meadows outlines 12 “leverage points”—12 places where we can intervene into a system to change its behavior. They are outlined in increasing levels of effectiveness:
12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards).
11. The sizes of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows.
10. The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport networks, population age structures).
9. The lengths of delays, relative to the rate of system change.
8. The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the impacts they are trying to correct against.
7. The gain around driving positive feedback loops.
6. The structure of information flows (who does and does not have access to information).
5. The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishments, constraints).
4. The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure.
3. The goals of the system.
2. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises.
1. The power to transcend paradigms.
I will be referring back to this list throughout the course of my writing on this blog. I am interested in solving the problems of runners by looking not at biomechanics, or society, but at the behavior of systems that are usually hybrids of the mechanical, biological, social and psychological realities that we all face and negotiate as runners, and as people. Discussing and understanding these leverage points is key, in order (for us runners) to stop understanding our bodies simply as athletic beings, and to look both outward and inward, to see what we can change, and how we can change it.
I share this list in order to illustrate the point that our bodies are systems that behave in highly complex ways. They are not merely performance machines to be trained. They respond to the very same leverage points that change the behavior of dynamic systems—and to all of them.
Much of the future discussion on this blog will be to illustrate how many of our modern training methods deal primarily deal with only a few leverage points, and usually those of least effectiveness. The rest of the discussion here will be of how we can utilize the knowledge of the most powerful leverage points to create changes in our life and training that lead to sustainable and continuous gains in our athletic development.