Shift-The-Burden

Not understanding the dynamics of "shifting-the-burden", ie

"...systematic structure that arises when people act to ameliorate the symptoms of a problem, end up becoming more and more dependent on the symptomatic solutions..."

Peter Senge et al, 2005

For example, it is like taking an aspirin to relieve a headache without identifying the source of the headache, eg stress from working and/or family, etc.

In diagrammatic form below, there is a shifting-the-burden to aspirin to relieve a headache rather than addressing the fundamental problem of over-commitment.

organisational development change management

Shifting-the-burden means not facing the real problem and this approach can make it worse, ie need more and more headache tablets and/or stronger medicine. This can result in not fixing the original problem plus adding another, ie drug addiction. Shifting-the-burden dynamics can arise when people face difficult problems and do not appreciate that there is a difference between symptomatic and fundamental solutions, ie

"...symptomatic solutions are quick fixes - like taking an aspirin - that address the symptoms of a problem without dealing with deeper causes and more fundamental solutions - like reducing over-commitment. Shifting-the-burden dynamics recur in diverse situations, but they always follow the same systematic pattern. The symptoms of a problem can be addressed either through symptomatic solutions or fundamental solutions. Only the latter will relieve the symptoms by addressing underlying causes. The simple systemic structure gives rise to shifting-the-burden behaviour over time when we opt for the symptomatic solutions and stop there. The symptomatic solutions, 2 aspirins, relieve the problem symptom, the headache. But this short-term improvement reduces the perceived need for a more fundamental solution - reducing over-commitment. As the fundamental sources of the problem are ignored, symptoms (headaches) get worse, the symptomatic solutions get more intense (we use increasingly powerful drugs) and the ability to address the fundamental causes of a problem atrophies. Finally, increasing reliance on symptomatic solutions brings unintended side-effects, such as health problems which demand more attention. We tend to think of addiction as a personal problem. But the shift-the-burden dynamic shows that it is actually a systemic phenomenon that occurs at many levels. Just as people become addicted to prescription drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes, companies become addicted to cost-cutting to improve profits, governments become addicted to lotteries to raise revenues, and agricultural industry becomes addicted to pesticides and chemical fertilisers to improve crop yields. Shifting-the-burden......demands quick solutions to difficult problems. Because it's so common, the shifting-the-burden dynamic typically goes unnoticed. Individuals and institutions fail to see how their capacity for fundamental solutions are eroding until the dependency and side-effects build to overwhelming proportions, eventually leading to unavoidable breakdowns..."

Peter Senge et al, 2005

An example illustrated in the diagram below shows a generic systemic problem of shifting-the-burden that has influenced Western society for several hundred years by encouraging an increasing reliance on science and technology at the expense of human development. More often symptomatic solutions, such as advances in fragmented science and technology, have increased the capability for fundamental solutions atrophy, leading to an even greater need for symptomatic solutions. Many of today's problems, such as environmental damage, arise as a long-term side-effects of shifting-the-burden process, creating more problems that require technological responses

organisational development change management

Another illustration of shift-the-burden dynamics might be seen when people who are uncomfortable with face-to-face interaction develop an over-reliance on email communication. Instead of addressing their inadequacy/discomfort, they reinforce avoidance behaviours, neglect the contact requirements for effective communication, and thus become ever-more-unlikely to overcome the original "problem".

. Need to understand the contradiction, ie the need to speed up and slow down at the same time. There is a continual need to speed up to handle the rapid changes, especially in technology; on the other hand, we need to slow down for reflection and for learning to occur

 

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