The perils of linear thinking

Everyone properly trained in the system dynamics method quickly perceive the wisdom in this illustrative article published in the Harvard Business Review (Linear thinking in a nonlinear world).

I reproduced below one of the figures that illustrate the article. The insight conveyed by the figure is usually absent even in the best papers and books that deal with important concepts like satisfaction and attitude. In the example, behavior does not reflect in a linear fashion the concern with the environment. On the contrary, in the specific case extreme positive concern is responsible for the most relevant behaviors.

Behavior change specialists may benefit their programs if they give special attention to the people behind extreme positive ratings given on attitudinal surveys. Those people tend to be champions of causes and early innovators. Given adequate conditions, they will propagate behavior change and social causes. They will also perform word-of-mouth, converting new people in the process.

The HBR piece illustrates the risks of adopting the naturally occurring linear thinking in dealing with a myriad of complex problems posed by modern world. Climate change is the prime example. It risks reaching a tipping point — the point of no return — in a few decades, but we still act as if the underlying phenomena were linear and reversible.