October 04, 2015
Failing With Single-Point Solutions: Systems Thinking For National Security
Journal Article | September 29, 2015
I have a problem with the Sunday morning political talk shows that our nation’s leaders use as a testing ground for solutions to the challenges, issues, and problems besetting the US on a regular basis. My problem is not that I watch the shows, but when I do indulge I have a hard time understanding the simple, linear, reductionist explanations of experts that offer predictable and comfortable responses to complex issues. Terrorism, nation-state bankruptcies, stock market crashes, humanitarian disasters, invasions through proxies, nuclear and technology proliferation, and transnational criminal organizations are just a few of the more recent headlines that all experts agree are undermining US national security. But few of these experts identify—let alone explain—the interrelationship of many of these issues or the multitude of contributing factors inherent within each of these challenges. The pundits of opposing political parties, aka experts, seek to define a static end-product easily judged as right or wrong, good or bad that doesn’t exist.
What has become clear are the uncertainties of a changing, continually globalizing world. Each subsequent change highlights the growing mismatches between the capabilities and capacities of traditional nation-states and the complexities inherent within non-traditional, global challenges. These complexities pose theoretical and real-world puzzles that demand thoughtful holistic policies by national security experts. Unfortunately, single-point solutions developed by government experts have failed to account for dynamic and volatile global conditions highly resistant to predetermined resolution. In fact, there is compelling evidence that suggests the very policies proffered as solutions act as catalysts to spawn the unanticipated consequences and shocks currently manifesting in the global environment. In fact, Dr. Jay Forrester, Professor Emeritus at the Sloan School of Business at MIT, assessed that up to 98% of all policy interventions fail in whole or part because of a lack of understanding of the systems in play. These failures highlight the limitations of our mental models and our overly simplistic approaches to problem solving.
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