An exchange of value between two humans creates a bridge - the volume and duration of the exchange widens and strengthens the bridge.

  • We find flowing through the system energy, materials, nutrients, goods and services, information, belonging . . . the generic term is value.  They flow through human systems based on the value we place on them.
  • We use the terms connections, bonds, relationships, agreements, contracts, transactions ... the generic term is bridges to describe the channels over which this value flows.
  • The generation and exchange of value is process.  The set of bridges directing the flows is structure.
  • All structure in human systems derives from the choice of individuals to maintain a bridge.

There is a concept about the effectiveness of human organizations based on social capital.  That concept postulates two types of social capital

- bonding social capital that holds people into groups and which can be positive or negative from the point of view of a society - depending on whether the groups are in conflict, and

- bridging social capital - which is always beneficial from the point of view of the society because it reduces conflict - but is also much harder to do.

For our purposes, of organizing a sustainable society, we use the terms connections, bonds, relationships, agreements, contracts, transactions and bridges and there is not, I think, any clear distinction between them.  This material uses the term bridge because we are describing the structure that directs the flow of value through the system . . . and visualizing a set of bridges helps to give substance to the concept. 


What we call civilization - that part of the one whole system impacted by human choice - is all of the bridges each of us chooses to maintain.  These bridges direct the flow of value through the system.  Poverty and environmental damage are a lack of adequate bridges.  We do not solve problems by tearing down existing bridges . . . we solve problems by building the missing bridges.  Tearing down existing bridges is problematic because, 1) the people maintaining those bridges will defend them, and 2) we do not always understand how one bridge is necessary for the continuance of other bridges (the law of unintended consequences).  New bridges require us to identify value that is not flowing and unmet need that can be satisfied by that value.  The bridge is not built unless value flows both ways, but, once a repeating exchange of value is established, the new bridge represents an evolution of system function.

All the power that there is in human systems is contained in the choice of individuals to maintain a bridge.  No organization exists without the participation of individuals.  Each of us is the source of power for multiple organizations.  It is the choices each of us make that configures the world.  Therefore, WE have the power to configure it any way we choose and we don't have to wait for anyone else to make those decisions for us.


Table of Contents

Practical Holism

3 Dimensional Understanding

Complexity Spirals

Integrated Systems of Production

Table of Contents

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  • David Braden IV, Executive Director, Living Systems Institute
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