All systems go through various phases or stages. I first came across the cycle of exploitation-conservation-release-reorganisation- in the field of ecology where it is known as the cycle of succession), but then came across it again in the work of David Fleming, economist and deep systems thinker.
Not surprisingly, he adapted this cycle to economic systems and drew it in the form of a mobius strip, which I reproduce here.
Each phase has a symbol to represent it. Exploitation is the “r” phase, used originally to describe the Rate of Growth of a population in an ecosystem. Pioneers, start-ups, entrepreneurs…most fail but some succeed. The system starts out as chaotic and dangerous but eventually becomes more connected and achieves some stability.
Conservation is the “K” phase, in which the system persists in a mature form, but weak in that the wealth of connections make the structure rigid rather than flexible and responsive.
Release is the Omega phase, when the cost and complication of maintaining the large scale becomes too much. Too many stressors on the system cause it to collapse. Climate Change and the Covid pandemic are examples of stressors. Is the global economy able to withstand them?
Reorganisation is the Alpha phase, when the system is broken down into mineral components. It might seem unpromising, but decomposition leads to fertility – available nutrients for new life to commence. In other words, it is actually full of potential.
In my next post I will put up a 6-phase version of this for us to look at in more detail.
Reference: D. Fleming, Surviving the Future, pages 162-3.