Tag Archives: Leverage Points

Leveraging a Job

“…Although people deeply involved in a system often know intuitively where to find leverage points, more often than not they push the change in the wrong direction.” – Donella Meadows

This morning I had a realization that having a job is a very important leverage point; there is so much effect that we can create by how we work with this one concept. In the past I had thought that we strive for the “right” job, one that fits our temperament and skills exactly. It would be even better if it doesn’t exploit the environment or people. Perhaps it even did some good in the world. But, what I realized in that moment is that using the word job sets us on a different path than if we say “what we do for a living”.

2016-05-26 12.46.00Having a job implies that you are going to sell your labor to the economy and then in return buy what you need from the economy.  It pretty much cements the loss of control, limiting your choices to ones that amount to dead ends. On the other hand, making a living implies that you’re working to live. As we are the person making the decisions about how we provide for ourselves, we have some control over what and how things happen. Having the right job is not going to make change, even thinking of what we do as a job pushes the wrong way. What we need is to craft appropriate lives that match to the reality of our environment.

Now think of all that we have that is dependant on a job. Where we live, what we eat, how we play, transportation, heat, electricity, internet, everything we have. Any one of these would be terrifying to lose. But each is a thing that exploits people and the natural world far and wide and each could be replaced with something more local that we can directly connect to and depend on to live. Any exploitation would be right in our faces, we would be more likely to suffer from our own actions, and we would at least have a chance to deal with it.

So, what is this state of being that we would be moving into? What would this alternative be like? We can imagine but just don’t know exactly what it looks like, as there is little space for that in the existing system. Much of it is illegal, someone with a gun would come and kill or arrest you if you didn’t comply with their demands. And, it’s something that we’re going to have to build from the ground up. Fit into the cracks of the existing order, always looking for new ones to appear, sort of a hybrid world. Keeping ourselves alive with the old systems, while simultaneously building a new world.

The less we identify with having a job, the more energy we can put towards the future. 

Leverage Points

Anyone who is seeking to make change in the world would do well to take a look at Donella Meadows’ list of leverage points, 12 places to intervene in a system. For us the real power lies in the ability to look beyond the direct effects of a decision to what would in essence be the effects of the effects. The increasing leverage we can gain from our decisions comes about because of tuning in to and actively designing with these radiating effects in mind.

Leverage points fulcrum

Numbers 1-6 of the Places to Intervene in a System are about changing the path you are on (inflection points), while number 7-12 are about how you are going to take the path you are currently on (smaller points of leverage along the same path). We’ll write more about this next time, for now take a look at the leverage points, read the article, and get a feel for what sort of decision each is and on what scale it is compared to the others.


(in increasing order 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.

There are several versions available, http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/419 is more complete than some.

For further reading on leverage points check out http://www.thwink.org/sustain/glossary/LeveragePoint.htm.