The Cause and Effect of Antibiotics

As we rolled into 2017 I was reading The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and read at every opportunity while on holiday.

Then I had to go back to work.

51b7-bx7cglMy 20 minutes on the train each morning and evening is not enough to get through a book quickly, especially if you are enjoying it. Fortunately I had downloaded the companion audio book from Audible that syncs with your reading position on your Kindle. I could keep listening to the book while I walked into the office. That lead to listening on my walks at lunch time. Before I knew it I was listening to the book all the time, and not reading it.

It is funny how your preferences can change. I have not listened to an audio book for a while. Preferring reading and podcasts. But I enjoyed this one.

51ey5rbpzflI finished the book, and started looking around for something new to read. I decided to try the works of the Stoic philosophers Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.

The Tao of Seneca is probably the last audio book I listened to regularly. In it is a letter from Seneca to Lucilius where he says, as I remember it, that we should read the same authors over and over again to really understand them, and for the ideas to take hold. Full quote below.

Be careful, however, lest this reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady.  You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. 

Everywhere means nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.

And the same thing must hold true of men who seek intimate acquaintance with no single author, but visit them all in a hasty and hurried manner.

Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow strong. 

There is nothing so efficacious that it can be helpful while it is being shifted about. 

And in reading of many books is distraction. 

 Accordingly, since you cannot read all the books which you may possess, it is enough to possess only as many books as you can read.

From On Discursiveness in Reading by Seneca

To me this means making sure I re-read books. Particularly the ones I enjoyed and rated highly.

Having enjoyed the audio version of The Undoing Project, I decided I would try the audio versions of my favourite books. It seems easier to listen to a book again than to read it again.

My first pick of the new year was The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge51h0km3wfkl

This book introduced me to Systems Thinking. A light bulb lit up in my head back in 2013 when I read it the first time.

Watch the video below to hear Peter Senge describe how he defines Systems Thinking, and why it is useful.

A couple of ideas have stuck with me from that book, for example thinking about learning organisations. But Causal Loop diagrams, closely followed by Stock and Flow diagrams, without a doubt had the biggest impact.

Here were diagrams of how I thought. When someone would tell me how good I was at seeing the ‘bigger picture’ this is what they meant.

They did not mean that I was a visionary leader.

They meant that I could see cause and effect beyond the initial, common, narrow view. I could see up or down a process a few more steps than many would bother. This has always come naturally to me, and here I found a way to speak about it. Here was a language made for me.

There is a catch. There’s always a catch. They are much easier to understand than they are to draw.

Intuitively I ‘see’ the diagram. But drawing it, getting that image out of my head has been challenging. Every time I tried I would get frustrated, and quit. Content to use words to describe the image instead. There are tools out there to help. Insight Maker and being my go-to tools. Drawing them in Visio is painful, and drawing them by hand can also be frustrating (you need to move the elements around often to make it all fit).

Listening to the Fifth Disciple again inspired me. I started to think in these terms again. To think about cause and effect, and how those dominoes keep knocking into each other.

Yesterday, in the car I took the opportunity to scratch my own itch and listen to a podcast in the car before the kids noticed. I selected a short 10 minute episode from the new BBC podcast 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy presented by Tim Harford. The latest episode was on Antibiotics. I recommend having a listen.

This episode, in my head at least, IS a causal loop diagram. It is a perfect subject, particularly as presented, to practice drawing these diagrams.

So here it is. My attempt to map out the cause and effects of the use of antibiotics as practice for drawing these diagrams. I used the presentation functionality in Kumu to tell the story. See below, and make sure to use the caption to link to the presentation.

Start Presentation Here

The great thing about these diagrams, perhaps my favourite, it how it represents a mental model of the world. In this case, this is my mental model, influenced by Tim Harford.

If you disagree with it, that is good. It means we know we see the world differently. That is useful. A mental model is never right. By definition they can’t be. There are many assumptions and short cuts we take to create how we think about the world.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

And I am open to any topics or articles to practice with.

Here is the full map.


Below are a couple of YouTube videos I recommend if you want to learn more about systems thinking, or drawing mental models.