Ripple EffectsJan. 23, 2022
When a system is accustomed to steady volume, a disruption or a bubble can cause significant and lasting issues:
- A packed highway moving smoothly, when struck by a minor accident, can experience delays that last for hours.
- A temporary lull in shipping volume in March 2020 followed by a large surge in demand contributed to supply chain issues that are still rippling nearly 2 years later
- A blockage in a home’s plumbing can cause widespread damage if there’s no emergency outlet for the excess water.
- A “to-do” list that’s chock-full every day has no cushion for when something takes longer than expected
One of the problems when there’s an emergency is that the ripples can persist, creating a perpetual state of emergency. The underlying issue is no longer there, but the temporary overload has stressed the system in ways it couldn’t handle, and now the reverberations are causing more issues than the original disruption.
A few potential solutions:
- Have the system operate below full capacity voluntarily so there’s excess room if you need it
- Maintain a reservoir (a backup) so you can increase capacity quickly if necessary
- Have a procedure for addressing emergencies so their effects are contained, not compounded
Think about the most important systems in your life. What changes could you make to help them be more robust?
Donella Meadows’ classic Thinking in Systems is a good source for additional reading on this topic.