A balancing loop attempts to move some current state
(the way things are) to a desired state (goal or objective)
though some action (whatever is done to reach the goal).The
balancing loop is one of the two foundational structures of systems
thinking, the other being the Reinforcing
Loop. A balancing loop is representative of any situation
where there is a goal or an objective and action is taken to achieve
that goal or objective. If I decide I want to increase sales by
10% I've just created a balancing loop. If I decide to develop
a new product I've just created a balancing loop. The instances
of this structure are numerous.
The desired state interacts with the current
state to produce a gap. The desired
state is considered to be fixed during this consideration.
The gap created by the difference between
the desired state and the current state is really
the motivation for action, and the larger the gap
the grater the tendency to produce action. The
action taken then adds to the current
state. The current state subtracts from the gap,
thus reducing it. When the action succeeds in
moving the current state to a point where it
is equal to the desired state the gap
is reduced to zero and there is no more motivation for action.
- Ensure there is an explicit well understood and agreed upon
definition of the desired state. If you don't know where
you're trying to get to then any action will take you somewhere.
- Ensure there is an as objective as possible definition of
the current state. It is the relation between the desired
state and the current state that forms the basis for
planning and subsequent action. If the planning is flawed
there is a good chance the resultant action will be inappropriate
to move the current state to the desired state.
- Because action is driven by the size of the gap
there is a natural tendency for the extent of action to
decline as the current state approaches the desired
sate. This tendency accounts for the fact that as projects
approach completion it seems to be more and more difficult to
make progress toward completion. To overcome this tendency the
motivation for action must come from somewhere else other
than the gap. In terms of project completion the focus might
be to begin to think about completing this project so the organization
can get on to the next one. The answer to the predicament lies
outside the structure.
Areas of Concern
The balancing loop is one of the simplest structures and seldom
ever occurs in isolation from additional influences. The most
prevalent extensions of the balancing loop are identified in the
following areas of concern.
- Since you can never do just one thing, and the fact that
the current state is what it is for some reason, the action
taken to change the current state, or the change in the
current state itself, may produce side effects which in
fact cause the current state, in time, to return. For
insights into this situation see Fixes
- If the period of time over which it takes action to move
the current state to the desired states is relatively
long there may be a willingness to settle for less than the initial
desired state. In this instance the goal is never reached
because the goal is lowered over time. For insights into this
situation see Drifting Goals.
- Pursuing this desired state may cause problems elsewhere.
These problems may actually result in increasing the goal making
it more difficult to reach. For insights into this situation
- The situation may be such that the action taken to
achieve the goal actually causes the current state to overshoot
the goal. This would then require additional action to
bring the current state back toward the goal. For insights
into this situation see Balancing Loop
- It is also possible that the structure that exists promotes
an endless oscillation. For insights to this situation see Indecision.
The following examples are intended to provide some specific
instances in which a balancing structure is the primary structure.
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Copyright © 2004 Gene Bellinger