Seeking Creative Solutions Using an Appreciation for Systems

Guest post by John Hunter, founder of

Want to reduce wildfires and drought? Leave it to beavers.

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A dry California creek bed looked like a wildfire risk. Then the beavers went to work.

“It went from dry grassland… to totally re-vegetated, trees popping up, willows, wetland plants of all types, different meandering stream channels across about 60 acres of floodplain,” she [Lynnette Batt, conservation director of the Placer Land Trust] said.

The Doty Ravine project cost about $58,000, money that went toward preparing the site for beavers to do their work.

In comparison, a traditional constructed restoration project using heavy equipment across that much land could cost $1 to $2 million, according to Batt.

The best solutions are often not direct. By understanding the larger systems involved, it allows creative solutions to be found that provide better results than if one seeks more direct countermeasures to address the symptoms.

Thinking systemically is a useful strategy to find creative solutions.

Similar improvements have been achieved by using an understanding of natural systems to find creative improvements. Introducing wolves to Yellowstone changed the surroundings of rivers.

Experiments have shown introducing wolves to areas overpopulated with deer can reduce car collisions with deer. Those experiments seem to indicate that deer are discouraged from spending time near roads, as that is a great place for wolves to ambush deer.

One way to reduce deer-vehicle collisions: bring back wolves

Economists in Wisconsin found that the money saved from decreasing deer-vehicle collisions is orders of magnitude higher than the cost of livestock reimbursements caused by wolves.

This text also highlights a problem with any change effort. If anyone is worse off, they fight the change, even if overall there is a substantial gain. Designing systems so that improvements are not crippled by those that are harmed is important. The best results are gained by optimizing the overall system, not by optimizing individual components.

Related: Focus on Addressing the Right ProblemSystems Thinking: Feedback LoopsAckoff on Systems Thinking and Management

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