Thanks to Mac Carter for this film about the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. We never know what the consequences will be when we do an under-thought intervention in an established complex system. This one worked out pretty well. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q. Thanks Mac.
But complex system interventions do not always go so well.
I am reminded of Chairman Mao’s eradication of sparrows as part of his Four Pest Campaign (also known as the “Great Sparrow Campaign”) in the late 1950s which resulted in the Great Chinese Famine a couple of years later in which tens of millions of Chinese died of starvation. Some estimates go as high as 36 million deaths!
While no doubt well-intended, Mao’s eradication project was meant to eliminate “pests.” But they had not allowed for the fact that the locust population went unchecked by the now-missing sparrows and thus created a huge ecological imbalance. The locus populations ballooned and came back in swarms, devouring crops and leaving huge masses of people without food. So these types of interventions in complex systems don’t always work out so well.
Intervening in any complex system without tons of thought about possible repercussions, and having a diverse group of people involved in the process, is unpredictable and dangerous. Without these precautions, we could be responsible for large scale unintended consequences such as those experienced by the Chinese almost sixty years ago.
Lesson for system thinkers: Never think you know the eventual outcome when you intervene in a complex system; respect living systems and engage them with humility and curiosity; and stand ready to make corrections if things start running amuck.
As Winston Churchill said decades ago, “We have created more complexity than our thinking can handle.”