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What Is 'Interdependence'?

Interdependence means that complex systems depend on other systems to be able to operate.

Highly interdependent systems are called "tightly coupled" systems. The more tightly coupled these systems are, the more they will be affected by failures on the systems they depend on.

"Loosely coupled" systems have low interdependence between each other.

The less dependent a system is, the less rigid and time-dependent it is, and the more Slack it has.

By removing dependencies you can make a system less interdependent, and therefore decrease the chances of a mistake in one system to cascade to the other systems.

Josh Kaufman Explains 'Interdependence'

Nothing in the world exists in isolation.

Very often, systems rely on other systems in order to operate. Your refrigerator requires electricity to operate. When your local power plant fails, your refrigerator fails as well.

That's Interdependence.

Highly Interdependent systems are sometimes referred to as "tightly coupled" systems. The more tightly coupled the processes in a system are, the more likely failures or delays will affect other parts of the system.

Tightly coupled systems are typically time-dependent, rigidly ordered, and have very little Slack. There's often only one path to a successful outcome, and a failure in any part of the system can "cascade" to the rest of the system.

If you've ever seen a "Rube Goldberg" machine or played the children's board game "Mousetrap," you've seen a tightly coupled system.

In a cascade of dominos, when one domino fails to knock over the next, the entire system grinds to a halt.

If you've every heard of the project management term "critical path," you know the importance of Interdependencies. The critical path contains only the tasks that must be completed in order for the project to be completed on schedule.

If something on the critical path changes, that change cascades to everything else on the path. Any delay in a task on the critical path will delay the entire project.

"Loosely coupled" systems have low degrees of interdependence.

Loosely coupled systems are more relaxed: they're typically not time-dependent. You may able to use "parallel processing," completing multiple steps at a time. There's plenty of slack, and you may be able to accomplish your goal using many different strategies.

Think of an orchestra, which consists of a conductor and many instrumentalists. If the first violin hits the wrong note, the quality of the performance will be affected, but that mistake won't necessarily cascade to the rest of the orchestra.

You can make a system less interdependent by removing dependencies. A dependency is an input that's required before the next stage of a process can take place. The more dependencies there are in a system, the higher the likelihood of delay or system failure.

Eliminating dependencies makes a system less tightly coupled.

Think back to the automotive assembly line example: if you must put in the engine before the windshield is installed, an engine problem will delay the entire system. If it doesn't matter which order the parts are installed, it's possible to assemble a finished vehicle in more than one way.

In The Four-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss shares a method that made his business work far more efficiently. Initially, when a customer service representative had a problem with a customer, they were required to obtain approval from Tim before resolving it.

By instituting a policy that allowed representatives to do anything necessary to solve the problem that cost less than $400 without approval, Tim made his business system less dependent upon him for operation.

Eliminate unnecessary dependencies, and you'll reduce the risk of a cascading failure.

Questions About 'Interdependence'


"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."

John Muir, naturalist


From Chapter 9:

Understanding Systems


https://personalmba.com/interdependence/



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The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:


About Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is an acclaimed business, learning, and skill acquisition expert. He is the author of two international bestsellers: The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. Josh's research and writing have helped millions of people worldwide learn the fundamentals of modern business.

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