|A fix in the short-term makes the problem go-away but in the long-run creates
unintended consequences that makes the problem worse, requiring more use of
the same fix.
As problems grow, fixes grow (something that might have worked in the past) ,
hopefully to cause the problem to go away. And it looks like the problem does go
away (problem gets better / reduced which is why we like non-leverage
interventions because it actually works!).
However, after some time (delays - the time needed for the effect of one variable
on another;moften these delays are either unrecognized or not well understood),
the same fix that made the problem go away, now creates an unintended
consequence(s) that makes the problem worse. So what do we do? We apply
more of the same fix!
|Behaviour over time
||The problem keeps coming
back, worsening each time.
|Commonly used words or early
|"It always seemed to work before; why isn't it working now?"
||"Goody Bag” story / Pay vs Passion
- Residential Committee chairman wants to recruit volunteers via block parties
- At the block party, residents get to meet an MP, a celebrity and go home with
a goodie bag
- The volunteer sign up rate is only moderate so the RC chairman organizes a
few more block parties, all giving away goodie bags
- One day he invites a resident for a block party and is immediately asked if
goodie bags will be given away
- He realises that residents are coming for the goodie bags and not because of a
genuine interest to volunteer - the goodie bag was a 'fix that failed'
|Tips to note when using
Is this graph merely showing a problem is becoming worse (POT for world disasters) or
suggesting that something about the way we are fixing it, is making it worse? Is it caused by
a reinforcing loop or by the fixes that backfire archetype?
|What is the thinking?
||“Time is money, and neither time nor money should be wasted. Therefore, the
first answer must be the right one.”
|Managing the intervention
Almost and decision carries long-term and short-term consequences and the two
are often diametrically opposed. This archetype can help us get off the problem-
making treadmill by identifying fixes that may be doing more harm than good.
Maintain focus on the long-term. Disregard short-term "fix", if feasible, or use it
only to "buy time" while working on long-term remedy.
- Turning this cycle around usually requires acknowledging that the fix is merely
alleviating a symptom and making a commitment to solve the real problem
- A two-pronged attack of applying the fix and working out a longer-term
solution will help ensure that you don’t get caught in a perpetual cycle of
solving yesterday’s solutions:
- Prong #1: Identify what is causing the problem (the causes). Map current
interventions and how they were expected to rectify the problem. Map
unintended consequences of the interventions
- Prong #2: Notice in mapping the unintended consequences, the longer term
causality that reinforces (causes) the problem. Find connections between fixes
and the causes. Are they linked? Proceed to identify leverage interventions.
Map potential side-effects (e.g. the unwillingness to 'bite the bullet' and wait it
out) for each intervention in order to be prepared for them (or to avoid them
What it looks like if the system was working well:
“We consider possible alternative and their side-effects before acting.”
We identify possible side effects of short-term fixes.