Systems Thinking, Short and Long

Some systems are obviously ripe for reimagining or reinforcing in the short term. All the myriad processes of business continuity and telework, for instance, or personal and public hygiene practices and customs of interaction.

But short-term systems are more responsive to short-term, improvisational fixes. It’s the big systems with long-term consequences that really demand focus now and in the future:

  • Adequacy and resiliency in the medical system
  • Ditto the food system
  • Ditto the financial system
  • Ditto educational systems (at all levels)
  • Ditto government (also at all levels)

Let’s get specific with two examples from New York City.

In the first case, NYC public schools apparently are unable to close because so many students rely on the schools for food. Schools might have been a workable answer to the question of where to get food to hungry kids in normal times, but free and reduced-price school meals are not adequate responses to hunger writ large.

Second, a couple I know is debating what to do right now. On the one hand, they don’t get paid if they don’t work — and they really miss every dollar they don’t earn. On the other hand, they are desperate to get out of a city that’s on the brink, and they’re lucky enough to have someplace else to go. Granted, they’re also lucky enough that they won’t fall into the abyss even if they skip work, but they’re seriously weighing a couple thousand dollars in potential income against the possibility of getting sick, stuck, or both.

They’re certainly not the only people in their situation, but they at least have the option to change their situation.

I don’t have any answers here, but I continue to believe — and insist — that this country can do better than this, both for the fortunate-enough and the many, many others who are truly trapped by circumstances.