Balancing Loops In The System

Anything popular eventually comes up against an equal force of its own resistance. In systems thinking, this is known as a balancing loop.

When a good restaurant opens in town, it gets rave reviews and everyone wants to go. This means it either becomes too expensive or too difficult to get a booking. The restaurant might become a chain, but then maintaining standards becomes a challenge, and chain restaurants lose their luster and fewer people want to go.

When a tourist destination gets rave reviews it’s ruined by a flood of tourists.

A while back, it became clear that pithy, absolutist, statements on Twitter attracted the most attention. Everyone rushed to embrace the same tactic. This creates fatigue and undermines the credibility of everyone embracing the same approach (remember listicles? ‘You won’t believe number 7!’).

The popularity of podcasts and newsletters is another example. The more people who create one, the fewer people each will attract. This in turn creates fatigue with the medium and an eventual backlash against their perceived value.

Communities are no different. As your community grows in popularity it encounters similar balancing loops. It becomes a target for bad actors. It becomes harder to feel like you belong. The community attracts poorer quality (or repetitive) questions (which in turn tend to drive the experts into private spaces).

It’s important to consider the strategic implications of balancing loops. Anything that is exploding in popularity will eventually clash against its own balancing loops. Whether you should incorporate or embrace it depends on whether it supports your strategy. Most of the time, the answer is to be patient and stick to the plan.

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