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CLE Curriculum: Characteristics of Complex Systems

Complex Systems: Underlying Structures and a Unifying Principle

Exploring multiple simulations, students can readily see that diverse systems exhibit similar behavior. This is because they all oscillate, and most oscillating systems – whether simple or complex ‐‐ feature an underlying stock‐and flow model with a balancing feedback loop that connects the two main levels of the
system.

Once students can identify oscillating behavior in systems from diverse contexts (physics, biology, social science, for example), and they recognize the common underlying structure, they should be able to extrapolate and apply their learning to better understand other complex systems they will encounter throughout their lives. They will hopefully be more keenly aware of and able to adapt to the cyclical nature of employment, finance and economics, and real estate, as examples.

Central to understanding complex systems is the premise that each system oscillates because of the inherent nature of its structure – not because of some outside force that acts on the system to cause the oscillation. This is particularly important when correcting or managing an undesirable behavior pattern. The remedy needs to be focused on changing the system structure. It is not a matter of pushing blame outward. The cause of the problem, and the solution to the problem, is within the system.

 

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