You are a Leverage Point!

by Karen O’Brien

Have you ever thought of yourself as a leverage point? Someone who can shift systems in big ways? At the 2019 Leverage Points Conference at Leuphana University, I plan to explain why you – and all of us, for that matter — should think of ourselves as leverage points for systems change. I will encourage you to lay aside your favorite “–ism” and consider your potential to generate change from a wider and deeper perspective, starting with the idea that systems are relationships and that your relationship to nature, to others, to yourself, and to the process of change actually matters. Literally!

As a big fan of Donella Meadows’ 1999 essay on “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” I am particularly interested in working with the highest leverage points. Shouldn’t we all?  Given the challenges facing humanity and the urgency of responding to them, we need to use the greatest leverage that is available to us. This, I will argue, is much more than we think.

Meadows identified 12 leverage points, each of them more powerful than the preceding one in terms of their potential to transform systems. The top three leverage points that she identified were:

  1. The goals of the system;
  2. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises.
  3. The power to transcend paradigms.

Meadows describes the capacity to transcend paradigms as a basis for radical empowerment. If there is anything that we need today, it is radical empowerment. In my keynote presentation, I will discuss the “three spheres of transformation,” including how they relate to Monica Sharma’s approach to Radical Transformational Leadership. I will then discuss the paradox of paradigms, including how thought patterns influence our “degrees of freedom,” particularly when it comes to systems interventions.

Drawing on insights from my ongoing exploration of quantum social change, I will then explain why and how you matter. If we think of ourselves not as merely individuals (i.e., discrete particles), and not as merely a collective unity (i.e., a big wave), but as both particles and waves, we become more like processes rather than fixed entities. When we introduce consciousness into the picture, including the role of beliefs, intentions, and free will, we may even recognize that we are the individual, the collective, and the system. This gives us tremendous power to transform ourselves, our communities, and our systems.

We are, of course, transforming already, all the time. Yet the current transformations are pushing us towards a world that is unequal, fragmented, homogenized, reduced, and broken, rather than evolving us towards a world of equity, integrity, diversity, coherence, and healing.  When we recognize that the future is a choice, and that the meanings we give to ourselves and our future do actually matter, we may start to see ourselves as the most powerful leverage point that exists and empower ourselves to transform systems in equitable and sustainable ways.


Abstract submission for this conference closes on 30 June — soon! Submit your Abstract here.

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact:

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