We’re on the cusp of watching real change sweep through Libya this week as rebel fighters seize the capital city of Tripoli in their ongoing effort to overthrow Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
With a new political body ready to replace Gadhafi’s 42-year regime, the rebels’ plight toward freedom these past six months has been fueled by leverage points leading to change.
In her 2008 book, Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Donella H. Meadows defined a leverage point as a “point of power” within a system. A leverage point’s essentially the silver bullet that can successfully change the system and achieve a desired goal or outcome.
Implementing them isn’t as easy as it sounds.
“…Although people deeply involved in a system often know intuitively where to find leverage points,” Meadows wrote, “more often than not they push the change in the wrong direction.”
Why? Because the behavior of a system isn’t cut and dry. It isn’t black or white. The behavior of a system and its interconnected parts can grow increasingly complex over time. Implementing a leverage point based on intuition could be detrimental to the long-term health of a system because a system, as Meadows pointed out, isn’t intuitive.
Right now, Libya rebel forces have successfully sparked two of Meadow’s 12 leverage points.
In February, the country’s citizenry called for a change in the dominant mind-set or the mental paradigm that created Gadhafi’s regime. According to author Bob Doppelt’s 2010 book, Leading Change Toward Sustainability, this action is the greatest leverage point for transforming a social system.
“The stated and unstated ideas held by the majority of people of an enterprise about the way the world works and their places in it shape everything they do,” Doppelt wrote. “If you can alter the dominant mental paradigm of the organization, you can change the entire way it is governed and operates.”
With the will to change on their side, Gadhafi’s opposition created the National Transitional Council, also known as the Libyan National Council—a political body now recognized by several governing bodies throughout the world, including the U.S. The council embodies a leverage point in its ability to rearrange the system’s parts. “When the core components of the system are reshuffled, many new ways of operating and governing appear,” Doppelt wrote.
Once Gadhafi’s overthrown, it will be up to the National Transitional Council to alter the system’s goals—a third leverage point—in accordance with the will of the Libyan people. These goals will need to dismantle Gadhafi’s policies and practices and replace them with ones that will help all Libyans prosper once again.
The council will also need to restructure the current system’s rules of engagement—a fourth leverage point—in order for the desired change to take place.
Only then will Libya begin to experience a true Arab Spring.