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Systems thinking

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Title: Systems thinking  
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Subject: Systems theory, Derek Cabrera, Russell L. Ackoff, Systems science, DSRP
Collection: Futurology, Holism, Management, Problem Solving, Risk, Systems Theory, Systems Thinking, Technology Assessment
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Systems thinking

Impression of systems thinking about society[1]

Systems thinking is the process of understanding how those things which may be regarded as systems influence one another within a complete entity, or larger system. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization "healthy" or "unhealthy".

Systems thinking has roots in the General

  • Learn Systems Thinking via Systems And Us

External links

  • Russell L. Ackoff (1999) Ackoff's Best: His Classic Writings on Management. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-31634-2
  • Russell L. Ackoff (2010) Systems Thinking for Curious Managers. (Triarchy Press). ISBN 978-0-9562631-5-5
  • Béla H. Bánáthy (1996) Designing Social Systems in a Changing World (Contemporary Systems Thinking). (Springer) ISBN 0-306-45251-0
  • Béla H. Bánáthy (2000) Guided Evolution of Society: A Systems View (Contemporary Systems Thinking). (Springer) ISBN 0-306-46382-2
  • Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1976; revised) General System theory: Foundations, Development, Applications. (George Braziller) ISBN 0-8076-0453-4
  • Fritjof Capra (1997) The Web of Life (HarperCollins) ISBN 0-00-654751-6
  • Peter Checkland (1981) Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-27911-0
  • Peter Checkland, Jim Scholes (1990) Soft Systems Methodology in Action. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-92768-6
  • Peter Checkland, Jim Sue Holwell (1998) Information, Systems and Information Systems. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-95820-4
  • Peter Checkland, John Poulter (2006) Learning for Action. (Wiley) ISBN 0-470-02554-9
  • C. West Churchman (1984 - revised) The Systems Approach. (Delacorte Press) ISBN 0-440-38407-9.
  • John Gall (2003) The Systems Bible: The Beginner's Guide to Systems Large and Small. (General Systemantics Pr/Liberty) ISBN 0-9618251-7-0
  • Jamshid Gharajedaghi (2005) Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity - A Platform for Designing Business Architecture. (Butterworth-Heinemann) ISBN 0-7506-7973-5
  • Charles François (ed) (1997), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics, München: K. G. Saur.
  • Charles L. Hutchins (1996) Systemic Thinking: Solving Complex Problems CO:PDS ISBN 1-888017-51-1
  • Bradford Keeney (2002 - revised) Aesthetics of Change. (Guilford Press) ISBN 1-57230-830-3
  • Donella Meadows (2008) Thinking in Systems - A primer (Earthscan) ISBN 978-1-84407-726-7
  • Pouvreau David (2013). "Une histoire de la 'systémologie générale' de Ludwig von Bertalanffy - Généalogie, genèse, actualisation et postérité d'un projet herméneutique", Doctoral Thesis (1138 pages), Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris :
  • John Seddon (2008) Systems Thinking in the Public Sector. (Triarchy Press). ISBN 978-0-9550081-8-4
  • Peter M. Senge (1990) The Fifth Discipline - The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. (Currency Doubleday) ISBN 0-385-26095-4
  • Lars Skyttner (2006) General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspective, Practice (World Scientific Publishing Company) ISBN 981-256-467-5
  • Graeme Snooks (2008) 'A general theory of complex living systems: Exploring the demand side of dynamics'. Complexity, 13(6), July/August: 12-20.
  • Frederic Vester (2007) The Art of interconnected Thinking. Ideas and Tools for tackling with Complexity (MCB) ISBN 3-939314-05-6
  • Gerald M. Weinberg (2001 - revised) An Introduction to General Systems Thinking. (Dorset House) ISBN 0-932633-49-8
  • Brian Wilson (1990) Systems: Concepts, Methodologies and Applications, 2nd ed. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-92716-3
  • Brian Wilson (2001) Soft Systems Methodology: Conceptual Model Building and its Contribution. (Wiley) ISBN 0-471-89489-3
  • Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1969) General System Theory. (George Braziller) ISBN 0-8076-0453-4
  • Dietrich Dorner (1996) The Logic of Failure. Trans. Rita Kimber and Robert Kimber. (Metropolitan Books) ISBN 978-0-201-47948-5
  • Barry Richmond (2001) Introduction to Systems Thinking: STELLA. (High Performance Systems) ISBN 978-0-9704921-1-1


  1. ^ Illustration is made by Marcel Douwe Dekker (2007) based on an own standard and Pierre Malotaux (1985), "Constructieleer van de mensenlijke samenwerking", in BB5 Collegedictaat TU Delft, pp. 120-147.
  2. ^ Senge, Peter (1990). The Fifth Discpline. Doubleday. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Capra, F. (1996) The web of life: a new scientific understanding of living systems (1st Anchor Books ed). New York: Anchor Books. p. 30
  5. ^ Skyttner, Lars (2006). General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspective, Practice. World Scientific Publishing Company.  
  6. ^ [3].
  7. ^ [4]
  8. ^ Hoshin planning methods
  9. ^ (Feedback thought in social science and systems theory / George P. Richardson (1991), 1. social science――methodology., 2. feedback control systems., University of Pennsylvania Press, p.126 )
  10. ^ Beer, Stafford (1959/1967). Cybernetics and Management (London: English Universities Press)
  11. ^ (Richardson, George P., Feedback thought in social science and systems theory, copyright © 1991 by the University of Pennsylvania Press) (Feedback thought in social science and systems theory / George P. Richardson (1991), 1. social science――methodology., 2. feedback control systems., p.171 )


See also


SYSTEMS             Simple          Complex         Exceedingly 
Deterministic   Window catch     Electronic digital   EMPTY
                Billiards        Planetary system
                Machine-shop     Automation
Probabilistic   Penny tossing    Stockholding         The economy
                Jellyfish        Conditioned          The brain  
                   movement         reflexed
                Statistical      Industrial           THE COMPANY
                quality control     profitability

FIGURE 4.1: Stafford Beer's classification of systems based on degrees of complexity and uncertainty. Source: Beer (1959, p. 18).[10]

Stafford Beer's classification of systems


 Level  Characteristic unit    Summary description
 (1)    framework              static systems
 (2)    clockwork              simple dynamic systems
 (3)    thermostat             control mechanisms and cybernetic systems
 (4)    cell                   open systems, or self-maintaining structures
 (5)    plant                  genetic/societal systems
 (6)    animal                 mobile, teleological systems with self-awareness
 (7)    human individual       animal systems with self-consciousness
 (8)    human society          social systems with self-consciousness
 (9)    transcendental idea    ultimate, absolutes, and inescapeable knowledges

TABLE 3.1 Kenneth Boulding's hierarchy of systems (abstracted from Boulding 1956, pp. 89–94)

Kenneth Boulding's hierarchy of systems

Examples of systems

Some examples:

Systems science thinking is increasingly being used to tackle a wide variety of subjects in fields such as computing, engineering, epidemiology, information science, health, manufacture, management, sustainable development, and the environment. Professor Rajagopal, EGADE Business School, building on the work of Ferdinand Tönnies has suggested the application of systems thinking in developing marketing strategy from the perspectives of corporate business restructuring in the post-economic recession situations.[6]


As a result of such thinking, new insights may be gained into how the supermarket works, why it has problems, how it can be improved or how changes made to one component of the system may impact the other components.

  • a "profit making system" from the perspective of management and owners
  • a "distribution system" from the perspective of the suppliers
  • an "employment system" from the perspective of employees
  • a "materials supply system" from the perspective of customers
  • an "entertainment system" from the perspective of loiterers
  • a "social system" from the perspective of local residents
  • a "dating system" from the perspective of single customers
  • Using the tenet of "multifinality", a supermarket could be considered to be:
  • Encapsulation of a system in space and/or in time
  • Active and passive systems (or structures)
  • Transformation by an activity system of inputs into outputs
  • Persistent and transient systems
  • Evolution, the effects of time passing, the life histories of systems and their parts.
  • Design and designers.

A treatise on systems thinking ought to address many issues including:

  • Interdependence of objects and their attributes - independent elements can never constitute a system
  • Holism - emergent properties not possible to detect by analysis should be possible to define by a holistic approach
  • Goal seeking - systemic interaction must result in some goal or final state
  • Inputs and outputs - in a closed system inputs are determined once and constant; in an open system additional inputs are admitted from the environment
  • Transformation of inputs into outputs - this is the process by which the goals are obtained
  • Entropy - the amount of disorder or randomness present in any system
  • Regulation - a method of feedback is necessary for the system to operate predictably
  • Hierarchy - complex wholes are made up of smaller subsystems
  • Differentiation - specialized units perform specialized functions
  • Equifinality - alternative ways of attaining the same objectives (convergence)
  • Multifinality - attaining alternative objectives from the same inputs (divergence)

The systems thinking approach incorporates several tenets:[5]

The systems approach

Systems science and the application of systems science thinking has been grouped into the following three categories based on the techniques or methodologies used to design, analyze, modify, or manage a system:

A holistic system is any set (group) of interdependent or temporally interacting parts. Parts are generally systems themselves and are composed of other parts, just as systems are generally parts or holons (see Holon Philosophy) of other systems.

  • a system is a dynamic and complex whole, interacting as a structured functional unit circuit
  • energy, material and information flow among the different elements that compose a system
  • a system is a community situated within an environment
  • energy, material and information flow from and to the surrounding environment via semi-permeable membranes or boundaries that may include negotiable limits
  • systems are often composed of entities seeking equilibrium but can exhibit patterns, cycling, oscillation, randomness or chaos (see Chaos Theory), or exponential behavior (see Exponential Function)

Systems science thinkers consider that:

  • a system is composed of parts
  • all the parts of a system must be related (directly or indirectly), else there are really two or more distinct systems
  • a system is encapsulated (has a boundary)
  • the boundary of a system is a decision made by an observer, or a group of observers
  • a system can be nested inside another system
  • a system can overlap with another system
  • a system is bounded in time, but may be intermittently operational
  • a system is bounded in space, though the parts are not necessarily co-located
  • a system receives input from, and sends output into, the wider environment
  • a system consists of processes that transform inputs into outputs
  • a system is autonomous in fulfilling its purpose (a car is not a system. A car with a driver is a system)

Several ways to think of and define a system include:

The concept of a system


  • The concept of a system 1
  • The systems approach 2
  • Applications 3
  • Examples of systems 4
    • Kenneth Boulding's hierarchy of systems 4.1
    • Stafford Beer's classification of systems 4.2
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • External links 8

Systems science thinking attempts to illustrate how small catalytic events that are separated by distance and time can be the cause of significant changes in silo effect. Systems thinking techniques may be used to study any kind of system — physical, biological, social, scientific, engineered, human, or conceptual.

In systems science, it is argued that the only way to fully understand why a problem or element occurs and persists is to understand the parts in relation to the whole.[4] Standing in contrast to Descartes's scientific reductionism and philosophical analysis, it proposes to view systems in a holistic manner. Consistent with systems philosophy, systems thinking concerns an understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the elements that compose the entirety of the system.

Systems thinking has been defined as an approach to problem solving, by viewing "problems" as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to specific parts, outcomes or events, and thereby potentially contributing to further development of unintended consequences. Systems thinking is not one thing but a set of habits or practices[3] within a framework that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. Systems thinking focuses on cyclical rather than linear cause and effect.


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