Transcend Paradigms to Press Leverage Points

Attempting to become a systems thinker is challenging. Since life is a series of interconnected systems, and decisions are attempts of managing these systems, it makes sense to grow in understanding and proficiency of systems thinking. One of the most powerful tools of systems thinking is the use causal loop diagrams.

Causal loop diagrams are a graphic depiction of a system that allows exploration of the dynamic interrelationships among the variables within a system (Anderson & Johnson, 1997). Using a causal loop diagram (CLD) provides an avenue to explore complex systems with elusive factors. More important than the CLD’s themselves, though, is the ability to identify leverage points. Leverage points are points of power within a system (Meadows, 1999) that allow a small amount of energy to be placed in a specific point within a system to get a high return for the effort. The thing is, people know intuitively where leverage points are, but often push them in the wrong direction because complex systems are counterintuitive (Meadows, 1999). Intuitive efforts of pressure in the wrong direction make problems worse (Meadows, 1999). In order to properly press leverage points, it is important to be able to accurately identify them and press them in the right direction.

Though there are twelve places to intervene within a system, the most powerful is the power of transcending paradigms altogether (Meadows, 1999). Paradigms create our worldviews and dictate how we see reality, but if we are able to transcend them, we lose biases that cause us to miss the obvious changes that need to be made in order to effectively press on systems leverage points. By transcending paradigms, we see the system objectively and find the answers to the problems we are trying to solve rather than uphold a paradigm that perpetuates the problem.


Anderson, V., & Johnson, L. (1997). Systems thinking basics: from concepts to causal loops. Cambridge, Mass: Pegasus Communications.

Meadows, D. (1999). Leverage Points: Places to Intervene Within a System. Sustainability Institute.



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