Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Systems: Escalation Archetype

Escalation Archetype
You know you did it. Yes, you do.
You hit me hard. I hit you too.
Then you hit me with your fist.
I almost laughed, since you almost missed.

I cracked your head with a brick.
You smacked me hard with a stick.
There wasn't much that I could do.
I found a branch and hit you too.

Then you hit me with your car.
I limped away but not too far.
I found a truck and went for you.
But you were gone, and we were through.

Of all the system archetypes I see escalation most often. I talk about it so much that escalation has even become dinner table talk. Darling recognized the signs in a conversation we had with another couple a few nights ago. "Ah," she said, "that's Escalation Archetype."
As I previously posted, to fully understand an archetype, you should know the behavior to expect, and (since we're talking about systems), you should at least look at a causal loop diagram.
The Causal Loop Diagram

Grabbed this right from Wikipedia
Scare you?
Causal diagrams can be frightening, but they are always composed of simple elements. Each of the above circles represents Action and Reaction or Cause and Effect. Actions in one group cause reaction in the other group at the intersection. The plus signs indicate the behavior is increasing, a negative sign indicates the behavior is decreasing.
In real life, escalation is much simpler. I have two favorite examples, the first is illustrated by the poem. One boy hits another, who hits back harder. The first boy finds a better weapon and hits even harder. Eventually the conflict escalates out of control (hence, escalation).
My other example is closer to home. We have two air conditioners, one for downstairs and one for upstairs. Last winter the air conditioner for the upstairs was set at seventy degrees. So was the heater downstairs. We have an open floor concept. Some of you can see this one coming.
As the heater for the downstairs brought the temperature up, the warm air rose. Even though we were only getting close to seventy downstairs, the upstairs became very warm, moving to the mid-seventies. Of course, the air conditioner for upstairs turned on and tried to cool the area off. This cold air flowed down the stairs and through the railings and chilled the downstairs area.
The heater worked harder to warm everything up. The air conditioner worked  harder to cool everything down. Both my gas and electric bills soared.
Escalation Archetype! The only way to resolve it was to get one of the two competing factors to quit. We turned off the upstairs air conditioner once we discovered the problem.
You can probably deduce the behavior over time.
Right. The behavior simply gets steadily worse for both parties.
Escalation can also work in reverse, and most people know that behavior as a downward spiral. We can see that at work in a depression/drug spiral. In that case, you feel depressed, so you take drugs to feel better. When the drugs wear off, things aren't better, but are worse - after all, you just spent money on drugs and you could have used that money for something better, like pickles. So now you're more depressed, and you take more drugs. This is a downward spiral due to destructive behavior, and another example of escalation archetype (but in reverse).
The only way to halt escalation is for one of the two parties to quit competing. Since it is, by nature, a competitive system, it's often a good idea to analyze the actual behaviors causing the conflict. Can you find the key factors? Can you mitigate them? In the best of worlds, you might even be able to find a larger goal where you are working together.
Joe and Bob both live in the same town and make hand-crafted guitars. People like the guitars, but inevitably choose the less expensive (since Joe and Bob both make quality guitars!). So Joe drops his price to get more business. Bob drops his price. Pretty soon they are both eating dandelion salad and they can't kick back and have a barbecue on Saturdays because they are both so broke.
Bob's wife is annoyed, so she and Joe's wife get together and contact a large company who handles hand-crafted guitars and sells them all over the world. They contract for a set price for each guitar and the problem is solved. Joe and Bob make the same amount and now they have barbecue on Saturdays together.
Except Bob is staying up later and making more guitars than Joe. Then Joe finds out and he starts staying up later…
You should get the idea.

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