Global Crisis/Innovation Blog

Power, War & The Power Law: We Need Double Loop Thinking Fast!

By Shlomo Maital






X axis: Casualties: Y axis: Probability


 Organizational psychologist Chris Argyris once coined the phrase “double loop thinking”, to define thinking that seeks to change entire SYSTEMS, by utterly different thinking, not just parts of the existing system with in-the-box more-of-the-same thinking.  In this he reflects Einstein’s “Law” that “you cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it”.

   Now we have evidence from mathematicians and physicists, who have analyzed centuries of data regarding war and bloodshed.  They have discovered the “Power Law” (originally noted by the physicist Lewis Fry Richardson)  (see diagram), which says that when the ‘severity of the (war) event’ increases by a factor of 10, the probability it will happen declines by a factor of 10.  In other words, the probability a terrorist attack will take 10 lives at a given point in time is 1/10, but an attack that kills 100 has a probability of 1/100.    Thousands of data points fall very close to this ‘power law’ inverse line.  and this “law” seems to have prevailed for centuries.

    Why?    According to one of the researchers working on this problem, Dr. Sean Gurley (Oxford U.):

  “The fact that the power-law distribution seems to be constant across all long-term modern wars suggests that the insurgencies have evolved to find an ideal solution to the problem of how to fight a stronger force.   Unless this structure is changed then the cycle of violence in places like Iraq will continue,” said Dr Gourley.” We have used this analysis to advise the Pentagon, the Iraqi government and the United Nations.”

  Here in the Mideast, events seem to constantly confirm the Power Law.  Recurring cycles of violence, revenge, counter-attack, revenge, etc. appear to create an endless Doom Loop of violence.   There must be some way to ruin the Power Law and implement Double Loop thinking. But the problem is, those whom we elect to solve our problems and conflicts actually seem to be trapped in the Power Law and confirm it rather than disprove it.