System Archetypes

What are System Archetypes?

  • Archetypes are commonly occurring combinations of two or more reinforcing and balancing loops
  • Each archetype has a characteristic theme, behaviour patterns, structure, mental models and interventions
  • System Archetypes are also knows as ‘classic system stories’ and ‘templates’
  • They enable us to ‘see’ structures when hearing one of these classic stories
  • The facilitate rapid joint understanding by diagramming the system

Name of ArchetypeDescription
Vicious / virtuous cycle   Amplification and reinforcement
Balancing Process    Correction: We try to reduce the gap
Fixes that BackfireUnintended Consequence
Shifting the BurdenUnintended Dependency
Limits to Growth / SuccessUnanticipated Constraints
EscalationOne-upmanship, Unintended Proliferation:  the harder you push, the harder the competitor pushes back
Drifting Goals

Inadvertent poor performance, actual and desired performance levels gradually falling
Success to the SuccessfulWinner takes all: Your success produces my failure
Growth and UnderinvestmentSelf-imposed Limits
Tragedy of the CommonsOptimizing each part destroys the whole: Everyone takes advantage of a resource that doesn’t belong to anybody
Accidental AdversariesPartners who become enemies: Two parties want to cooperate, but each sees the other undermining their success