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system notions

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basic system notions

[feedback, feedforward] [goal-directed] [homeostasis] [sociotechnical] [system (closed, open)]
 
advanced system notions

[autopoiesis] [emergence] [hysteresis] [requisite variety] [viable systems model (VSM)]

The basic notions are covered in the Foundations of Business course offered by Veryard Projects and Antelope Projects. Advanced notions are covered in our Organizational Behaviour course.


Basic Notions


Feedback, Feedforward

Feedback and feedforward are information flows between systems or subsystems that have a causal impact.

Feedback refers to an information flow that sets up a causal loop. Feedback may be positive or negative. Positive feedback has the effect of amplifying the original stimulus, while negative feedback has the effect of reducing or reversing the original stimulus.

In the absence of other controls or influencing factors, positive feedback tends to result in explosive growth, while negative feedback tends to result in either equilibrium or oscillation.

Under certain conditions, negative feedback can be used to maintain system properties - see homeostasis.
  

Course Material Systems Dynamics (pdf)
Further Material System Dynamics Case Study - Credit Card


Goal-directed

"The most distinctive characteristic of the behaviour of higher organisms is its goal-directedness, its apparent purposiveness. In fact, it is largely through this apparently teleological nature of their activities that living organisms betray their exceptional organization. ... The movements of a chick pecking at a grain, a rabbit digging its burrow, a pike chasing its prey, a bee homing on its hive, are the sort of examples one could quote of activities that could be paralleled to a significant extent by known forms of automatic controls as used in industry, aircraft, guided missiles, etc." [Gerd Sommerhoff, 1969]
  
Course Material Systems Dynamics (pdf)
Further Material


Homeostasis

Example: A heating system switches itself on when the temperature falls below the desired temperature, and switches itself off when the temperature rises above the desired temperature. This control mechanism aims to maintain the temperature approximately equal to the desired temperature.


SocioTechnical

A description of something (usually a system) that identifies both socially mediated relationships and technically mediated relationships.

Many people think of a socio-technical system as a composite system, containing some social subsystems and some technical subsystems. This is a simplification, which can sometimes be dangerously misleading.

All social systems are technically mediated. We get an increasing amount of our information about our social world through technical media: email, telephone, management information systems, television, Reuters newswire. These technologies screen information for us, screen information from us.

(For example, computers and televisions both provide information as services through a screen. The screen is both literal and metaphorical. It is a surface on which the data are presented, and also a filter that controls what the user sees. The screen is a two-sided device -- it both reveals information and hides information.)

And all technical systems are socially mediated. Technology is produced, distributed and managed by people within social structures, for socio-economic or political purposes. It is interpreted and used according to social intentions.

For some purposes, therefore, it is appropriate to treat all the subsystems, even the smallest components, of a socio-technical system as if they were themselves socio-technical.
  

Course Material SocioTechnical Systems (pdf)
Further Material SocioTechnical (html)


System (Closed, Open)

 
Closed System Thinking Regarding a system (such as an organization or enterprise) as independent and autonomous. This means that problems may be largely analysed with reference to internal structure and process, and without reference to the external environment.
Open System Thinking Regarding a system as interdependent with its environment, with exchanges of material, information and energy.
 
Course Material Systems Theory (pdf)
Further Material

Advanced Notions


Autopoiesis

This notion was introduced by the biologists Humberto Maturana and Franscisco Varela. It refers to autonomous systems that are self-creating, self-organizing and self-preserving. It is commonly applied to biological organisms, and also to human organizations. 
Course Material
Further Material Resistance in Self-Organizing Systems (html)


Emergence

(The appearance of) properties of a whole system that are not located in its parts. With engineered systems, these properties donít manifest themselves until the whole system is assembled and commissioned. With evolved systems, these properties often disappear when the system is taken apart.


Hysteresis

Imperfect or delayed return to a previous state (memory effect). Delayed response to a stimulus (cause-effect lag).


Requisite Variety

A principle first formulated by W.R. Ashby, which states that a control mechanism must have access to the same degree of diversity as the system it is attempting to control. In open systems thinking, this implies that the internal regulatory mechanisms of a system must be at least as diverse as its environment.
  
Course Material
Further Material Requisite Variety - Fiction by Larry Constantine


Viable Systems Model (VSM)

A framework model of complex systems, developed by Stafford Beer.
  
Course Material Viable Systems Model (pdf)
Further Material Jon Walker's guide to the Viable Systems Model (html)



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This page last updated on August 22nd, 2002
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