A downward spiral is a situation whereby a failure or weakness causes a situation to get worse causing further failure and weakness. This is a feedback loop whereby a disturbance in a system leads to larger disturbances. A downward spiral leads to a system that is out of equilibrium and at risk of complete failure. The following are illustrative examples.
A government prints money to fund the government as opposed to using debt and taxation. This lowers the value of money causing the government to print more which lowers the value of money in a loop that ends with the complete collapse of normal economic functions due to hyperinflation.
ConservationWildlife is hunted for a high priced food or medicine. The decline of the species due to hunting causes reduce supply and rising prices resulting in more intensive hunting.
HealthA snowboarder breaks their leg and is unable to exercise for several months. This causes them to become out of shape and out of practice putting them at risk of another injury when they get back on the slopes.
PerformanceAn employee has a fear of public speaking. This results in an avoidance of public speaking that causes the employee to increasingly fall behind their peers in terms of public speaking skills. The employee is aware of this gap and this increases their fear of public speaking and avoidance of it.
Customer ServicePoor customer service causes angry customers resulting in stressful working conditions resulting in poor customer service.
QualityA hotel with poor quality has declining reputation and sales. This results in a declining ability to recruit talented employees and less funds to invest in quality improvements.
LearningA student doesn't understand a chapter in a math textbook that is a foundation for everything else in the textbook. This makes learning subsequent chapters more difficult. These chapters are also foundations for later chapters meaning that the student is increasingly finding they don't understand the foundations of each chapter.
EducationA society has a poor education system. This leads to poverty, crime and low economic efficiency that makes it more difficult to improve the education system.
NotesA downward spiral can often be halted with a solution for the root cause of a problem. Solutions for downward spiral problems often take the form of a completely new system or approach that represents a virtuous circle.
This is the complete list of articles we have written about systems thinking.
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