Proper Coupling

Proper coupling occurs when the behavior of one system affects the behavior of one or more other systems in a desirable manner, using the appropriate feedback loops, so the systems work together in harmony in accordance with design objectives. For example, if you never got hungry you would starve to death. You would be improperly coupled to the world around you.

Proper coupling in the System Improvement Process

How to achieve proper coupling is the second subproblem in the System Improvement Process. The three subproblems are:

A. How to overcome change resistance
B. How to achieve proper coupling
C. How to avoid excessive model drift

In the environmental sustainability problem the human system is improperly coupled to the greater system it lives within: the environment. This is universally seen as the probem to solve. But our analysis shows that's a false assumption. The first subproblem, how to overcome change resistance, is actually the problem to solve because once resistance is overcome, the system will "want" to solve the problem. This is a subtle but powerful insight.

That proper coupling is seen as the problem to solve is shown by this diagram:

Diagram of Herman Daly's empty world and full world

This the famous "Figure3. The economy as an open subsystem of the ecosystem" diagram from Herman Daly's Beyond Growth book of 1996, page 49. The book says "Since the ecosystem remains constant in scale as the economy grows, it is inevitable that over time the economy becomes larger relative to the containing ecosystem. This transition from an ‘empty world’ to a ‘full world’ is depicted….”

Herman Daly is one of the founders of the field of ecological economics and a past Senior Economist in the Environment Department of the World Bank. His work and similar work established the paradigm that the problem to solve is the one shown in the diagram, where the economy is improperly coupled to its containing ecosystem. That's what our analysis calls the environmental proper coupling subproblem. Due to that paradigm, the world has focused exclusively on solving that subproblem, with no awareness there could be a broader view of the problem. After all, what could be a broader view than the planetary one illustrated?

But the economic/ecosystem view of the problem is a one dimensional view. There are at least three more dimensions of the problem, as you can read about in the Summary of Analysis.

Browse the Glossary
Previous Next
There Are Two Proper Coupling Subproblems

The sustainability problem is so large and complex that productively analyzing it requires two proper coupling subproblems. These are life form and environmentalproper coupling.

In the life form proper coupling subproblem, Corporatis profitis is improperly coupled to Homo sapiens. Each life form is a system of its many members. In the environmental proper coupling subproblem the economy is improperly connect to the environment.