What is Systems Thinking? LO6151

Lyle G. Courtney (link@unixg.ubc.ca)
Thu, 21 Mar 1996 07:30:53 -0800 (PST)

Replying to LO6139 --

I want to offer some augmentations to your definition of systems thinking,
from my study of it at the University of British Columbia. I agree that
this is about identifying consistent dynamic patters in complex adaptive
systems. Whether or not this is done in order to predict behaviour is
another question, that is illustrated by the nature of these systems, and
I include learning organizations in them.

I would expand 'complex adaptive systems' to 'complex, self-organizing
systems'. The term self-organizing means 'to adapt and innovate
spontaneously', and I believe all systems, biophysical and human,
self-organize at some time-space scale. Adaption in Michael Kirton's
sense means in effect 'making do better' with existing resources and
within existing environments; innovation means 'creating new ways' of
dealing with resources. Typically, innovation arises by means of some
sudden change in perspective, a general term for which is bifurcation.

Bifurcations are rapid changes in a system which trigger some kind of
reordering [or, in negative outcomes, dissipation] towards a new stability
domain. We can anticipate bifurcations, but we cannot predict what the
'new order' will look like. Prediction in the ordinary sense relies on
some kind of continued stability, generally predicated on some kind of
equilibrium. Complex adaptive systems attain stability, but in conditions
typically far from equilibrium. They are typically referred to as
'dissipative structures'.

A learning organization is a dissipative structure. It draws into itself
energy and information from its surroundings, reorders these, and
dissipates some kind of 'entropy' into those surroundings. If it is
information-rich, i.e. pays attention to this information, then it is more
likely to be adaptive, and reorder towards a more resilient state. If
not, then it will eventually encounter some 'surprise' which will threaten
its continued existence. When organizations rely too much on prediction
in the conventional sense, they are asking to be surprised.

There is a rich literature emerging in complex systems, which I would be
happy to share with you if it can be of benefit.

Lyle Courtney


"Lyle G. Courtney" <link@unixg.ubc.ca>

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>