Best Boss Minute | The Harder You Push, The Harder the System Pushes Back

We’re continuing with our series on the 11 Laws of Systems Thinking, originally conceived and designed by Peter Senge. It’s a way of understanding and explaining how problems that are relatively easy or seem easy to fix tend to bounce back, push back, and go back to their starting point over and over again. That’s what we call systems problems. So we want to start thinking about how to really tease apart the different components of a system to make the biggest difference. Part of that is understanding these laws, these truisms, that happen for system problems. 

Law #2: The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back.

This one is really telling for me. I remember many times coming back to my team from really good, motivational, inspirational conferences with brilliant ideas of how we’re going to overhaul this, overhaul that, and getting pushback over and over again. Even with folks that understood me, who were working really well as a team, the system pushed back because of this very strong push forward I was imposing on the system. Maybe you, too, have an example that comes to mind about a system that is pushing back. So I want you to take into account these three things that will really help in understanding how to mitigate that pushback.

Seek Leverage Points

What that means is it’s just like the Jenga game. And if you’ve ever worked with me before, you know I’m a big fan of the Jenga analogy. When you play a Jenga game, there’s one piece that makes the biggest difference and a lot of other pieces that don’t make a difference. So when you’re thinking about how to address a system problem — a system that’s pushing back the more that you push forward — consider where are the leverage points. Where are the things that would hopefully take the least amount of effort and make the biggest difference? 

We often focus on the most obvious or flashy things, the things that grab our attention or that people complain about the most. However, I encourage you to take a systems perspective and really look at how all the pieces fit together. You’ll start to see how things affect each other in a continuous feedback loop. When you can see the big picture, you can start to understand where the leverage points are—the places where you can make the biggest impact with the least amount of effort.

Experiment and Learn

Foster an environment, a culture, of experimentation and learning. We want to make sure that we are dipping our toes over and over again into new things, new ways, new innovations. The problem is often that we jump in or we put the whole thing out. When we start to devise solutions and share solutions and get buy-in from our people, we need to find the places where we can make small changes and get the biggest results. So experiment and learn.

Build Resilience

It is important to build resilience for yourself and your people. There are many resources available to help you learn about resilience, but the most important thing is to understand your own personal barriers to resilience. Ask yourself when you are least resilient and why. Once you understand the root cause of your own challenges, you can start to develop strategies to overcome them. Encourage your team to do the same. A resilient team is a successful team.

Use these three strategies, and you’ll find that the system won’t push back nearly as hard as it has in the past. In fact, it may actually embrace your change when you do it strategically and you do it smartly. 

About Danny

With over 20 years experience in training and leadership development  — and holding an MBA and an MA in Organizational Development — Danny Ceballos has worked with organizations across the country to strengthen their effectiveness in leading and managing others through supervision+motivation best practices and strategies.