Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sharpening the Saw

I've been sick. I've been fighting something respiratory for about a month. As usual with my work on the Seven Habits, reading this 'habit' comes at a very good time. (Check out my posts on the previous habits to see how they resonated with my life at each point. My last post on the Seven Habits, Synergize!, 9/15/11, summarizes some of this.)

This is the last of the Seven Habits. (Stephen Covey has since written a book since called The 8th Habit. Like a lot of books, I might read it some day. Meanwhile, I'm going to stick to the seven.) As Covey says, this is the habit focused on renewal (he subtitles the chapter "Principles of Balanced Self-Renewal") and "the habit that makes all the others possible." In brief, this habit is about taking care of yourself.

Covey sees renewal happening in four 'dimensions': Mental, Physical, Social/Emotional, and Spiritual. (Which is interesting because I've thought of people as being mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual for almost forty years. It was my way of dealing with the 'mind/body problem'--instead of breaking us into two components, I broke us into four because I thought four would be easier to intergrate than two.)

He begins with physical renewal: "...caring effectively for our physical body--eating the right kinds of foods, getting sufficient rest and relaxation, and exercising on a regular basis." He talks about developing endurance (through aerobic exercises), flexibility (through stretching), and strength (through muscle resistance exercises). He relates this to Habit 1, proactivity, in the sense that you need to be consistent and focused to maintain exercise programs in spite of the tendency to want to slack off. Right now, this is the dimension I'm focused on, resting and eating right to make my way back to health, and slowly building back my strength.

Covey then talks about spiritual renewal, saying that "The spiritual dimension is your core, your center, your commitment to your value system." He relates this to Habit 2, your goals, your mission, your 'personal leadership'. For some this has to do with their religious practices, but he is clear that you can also get this from 'great literature or great music' or through communication with nature. The point is to do what you need to do to renew your connection to that which is greater than you. He sees this as something we need to do daily, quoting both Martin Luther ("I have so much to do today, I'll need to spend another hour on my knees.") and 'a Far Eastern Zen master' (who was asked how he was able to always be so serene and answered "I never leave my place of meditation.") I know I am still trying to learn how I can strengthen my connection with both the natural world and that place of love and healing within myself.

He sees the mental dimension as training the mind and continuing education. If we don't keep our minds active and challenged, they atrophy. He claims that we need the self-management of Habit 3 to limit mental junk food (and he particularly singles out television--although mindless internet surfing can be nearly as bad). He talks about the need for all of us to do reading, writing, organizing, and planning. I've seen lots of research claiming that 'mental exercise' (even balancing your checkbook or doing crossword puzzles) is one of the best ways to prevent dementia in old age. Of course, I think that trying to figure out how to solve the world's problems is even better--since the mental work benefits you and potentially what you come up with might benefit many others. I don't particularly think this is an area where I have to worry much. I'm driven to learn and problem-solve--and, of course, this blog is an important part of my mental renewal.

Finally, Stephen Covey connects the emotional dimension to our social life "because our emotional life is primarily, but not exclusively, developed out of and manifested in our relationships with others". Where he sees physical, spiritual, and mental renewal as connected to the habits (1, 2, and 3) he calls "Private Victory", he sees emotional renewal as tied in with what he calls the habits of "Public Victory", Habits 4, 5, and 6: thinking win/win, listening to understand, and achieving synergy. As he says, we can renew the social/emotional part of our lives "in our normal everyday interactions with other people. But it definitely requires exercise." He gives a concrete example of two people having a difficulty. If you're involved in this, it's a chance to assume you and the other person can find a solution that you will both feel good about (Habit 4), to really listen empathically to the point you truly understand what the other person is facing and can communicate it back before trying to explain your point of view (Habit 5), and then to use your new understandings to come up with a solution better than either of the initial proposals (Habit 6). Covey claims "Success in Habits 4, 5, and 6 is not primarily a matter of intellect; it's primarily a matter of emotion. It's highly related to our sense of personal security." Which is why we do our emotional renewal in our daily interactions with others.

You can't just learn this stuff. You've got to practice it constantly. Once again, I'm amazed how much a Mormon businessman has to teach me about personal growth and social change--and, of course, about taking care of myself. I do recommend reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. You may find it a lot more useful than you'd think.

Quote of the Day: "...there is no shortcut... The law of harvest governs; we will always reap what we sow--no more, no less. ...we must show diligence in the process of renewal... To keep progressing, we must learn, commit, and do--learn, commit, and do--and learn, commit, and do again." - Stephen Covey

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Leverage Points and Graphs of the Future

Here's more on Donella Meadows and world system modeling.

What I think is probably one of the most important things Donella Meadows wrote is available online, "Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System". This is an unbelievably useful piece of work, especially if you're interested in social Change, because here she summarizes years of systems thinking in terms of where you can make change and which points are most useful. She delineates twelve leverage points and (almost like one of David Letterman's Top Ten lists) lays them out in decreasing numerical order, from the least effective (number 12) to the most effective (number 1).

While this list is available other places on the 'net (Wikipedia, for example, has a condensed version), the original is worth reading for all the wisdom Donella Meadows put into it. (It is also included as a chapter in her book Thinking in Systems, which I highly recommend and hope to review here someday.) I'm not going to go over the points here; I really hope that you read her article and think about how you could apply this to your work.

Donella Meadows begins the article by talking about Jay Forrester's "world model" which led to her work with the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth report. (see my last post, Learning from Modeling, for more about world models.) Another online resource is an article by Forrester on the "Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems". While the whole article is worth perusing, it's the graphs at the end of the paper that make this invaluable to those of us interested in social change.

Here is the original 'world model' from 1971 (I'll admit, it's a bit much for me) followed by seven graphs (numbered 2 to 8, the model itself being Figure 1) plotting what the computer calculated would happen if: (2) things stay as they are and "industrialization and population are suppressed by falling resources"; (3) we reduce the usage of natural resources (by more effective technology) and face a pollution crisis; (4) we increase the rate of industrialization and once again face a pollution crisis; (5) again the industrialization rate is increased along with a 50% reduction in the birth rate and one more time we face a pollution crisis (and because the quality of life increases with the reduced birth rate, the birth rate begins to increase again); (6) we reduce the usage of natural resources *and* increase the rate of industrialization which leads to rapid and multiple crises; and (7) in addition to these two things we reduce the rate of pollution generation by 50%, which only delays the pollution crisis by 20 years. All of these scenerios result in serious population reductions, often by what looks like a real population collapse.

Finally, in Figure 8, Forrester shows what would happen if industrial growth, pollution generation, the birth rate, and the rate of food production were all decreased. (Yes, in his model food production would be decreased by 20%.) Population and pollution stabilize and the quality of life rises.

Of course, all this assumes we did this in the 1970's. The first graph (#2), while not pleasant (the quality of life goes way down), at least has a gradual reduction in the population. But this assumes the industrialization and pollution are suppressed by the lack of natural resources. The questions about pollution and natural resources bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the questions we face today about climate change vs peak oil--which comes quicker, resource depletion or pollution/climate change? These graphs make it clear the results would be quite different.

One of the things that interests me is, given what they found in these models, what happened to Jay Forrester and Donella Meadows. Jay Forrester, after noting what would happen with continued economic growth, went on with his work of helping corporations grow economically, and begin focusing on creating an economic model for the US economy and developing educational curricula for teaching system dynamics from kindergarten through high school. Donella Meadows (who died in 2001) became a professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, as well as establishing the Sustainability Institute in Vermont, which she described as a "think-do-tank." She also helped establish a ecovillage and organic farm at Cobb Hill in Hartland, Vermont. 'Dana', as friends called her, often referred to herself simply as "a farmer and a writer." Where Jay Forrester defended the model and then went on to other things, Donella Meadows took it very seriously and built a life in keeping with what she learned. Amory Lovins claimed, "When asked if we have enough time to prevent catastrophe, she'd always say that we have exactly enough time -- starting now..."

Quote of the Day: "There are no cheap tickets to mastery. You have to work at it, whether that means rigorously analyzing a system or rigorously casting off your own paradigms and throwing yourself into the humility of Not Knowing. In the end, it seems that power has less to do with pushing leverage points than in does with strategically, profoundly, madly letting go." - Donella Meadows