3 fun visuals about systems - Show and Tell Tuesday part 4

Welcome back to my series of fun visuals to know and use. This week I've got a few really fun ones and they have to do with one of my personal favorite things to show and tell about: systems! Let's dive in . . .

Feedback loop

These visuals show cause and effect relationships that form a circuit. In other words, the first influences the second which influences the third which feeds back into the first, for example, leading to a circular loop. These systems therefore must be understood as a whole cycle rather than as a singular cause and effect. This is also called a mutual causal interaction.

The best examples are in nature, such as the water cycle and chemical processes in organisms where no energy or material is wasted. Another example is the influence of human psychology on the stock market (rising and falling stocks are considered positive or amplifying feedback and subsequent increasing or decreasing prices are negative or stabilizing feedback).

Feedback loops have been explored as a framework for behavior change as well. The stages are depicted below: data captured about a behavior (evidence), information packaged and shared with the individual in a compelling way (relevance), proposed actions (consequence), and moment of decision (action). This model capitalizes upon our self-regulating instincts while leveraging our aspirational tendencies. 

I created an example/template below for you to fill in so that you can better understand the behaviors you'd like to change as part of your organization's mission - and the information you need to share to help spur it!

Fishbone diagram

These diagrams are also a way to show cause and effect, where causes are grouped into categories of sources of variation. This sorting can be useful for identifying possible causes of a problem, especially if you need to stimulate thinking outside the box. 

First, write the effect or problem statement to the right in the center (this is the "head" of the fish) and draw a horizontal arrow on the left pointing to it (fish spine). Then, write categories of causes (such as policies, people, materials, environment, etc.) as branches from the main arrow. Then, explore all possible causes, sorting and writing them on branches from the categories. You can even analyze deeper, writing sub-causes branching off the main causes. This can aid in understanding true drivers. You may then choose to prioritize key ones to address and even explore ways to validate them.

Mission driven organizations often explore what's driving the outcomes they are looking to change, so I think this could be a very powerful way to show this information. For an example, I have chosen to describe factors contributing to the issue of water conservation.


A genogram shows the history of family relationships and medical diagnoses. Unlike a basic family tree, it visualizes family patterns and dynamics, so it is used by professionals and researchers in medicine, psychiatry, psychology, sociology, etc. 

Males are represented by squares, females by circles, and various lines symbolize relationships between them (parent-child, marriage, divorce, etc.) as well as the emotional nature of those relationships (harmonious, hostile, distant, etc.). With each person symbolized, there is also relevant information listed such as date of birth/death, medical conditions, professions, etc. 

To demonstrate the purposes these can serve, I am sharing this example of Carl Jung's family (from the book Genograms: Assessment and Intervention), which you can see had many minsters, physicians, and believers in the supernatural, and thus likely influenced his career in which these three were integrated.