systems – cybernetics – complexity

Eight dimensions of six systems traditions

In this comparison of six systems traditions across eight dimensions, I draw from three sources: Stuart Umpleby’s keynote at the 2012 International Society for the Systems Sciences conference, a video of Eric Dent’s presentation at the 2005 American Society for Cybernetics conference, and the original 1998 Dent and Umpleby paper (pdf). The authors characterize the [...]

Living in a projectified world

Listen to recent talks by political economist Gar Alperovitz and you’ll pick up his emphasis on the word project. He uses the term to refer to good work — worker-owned companies, social enterprises, and so on — but also to a narrowing of focus that makes it easy to shrug off larger responsibilities. From last [...]

Derek Cabrera, systems thinking, and DSRP

What is systems thinking? — the act of thinking itself, separate from other ways we might approach systems? “[I] set out to clarify the construct of systems thinking,” writes educational theorist Derek Cabrera in his 2006 dissertation (pdf), “and to define it as a conceptual framework apart from systems science, systems theory, systems methods, and other [...]

Slides on history of cybernetics

Cybernetics — from the Greek kybernētēs meaning “steersman” or “governor” — is famously difficult to define or describe. “The art and science of human understanding,” a definition proposed by Humberto Maturana, is among the dozens listed by the American Society for Cybernetics (ASC). “I don’t think cybernetics exists, it’s a conglomerate of some subjects which span [...]

Climate regulation and requisite variety

If a photographer wants to capture twenty images, and the subject of each image requires a distinct combination of focus and exposure, then the camera must have available at least twenty distinct settings. This example of requisite variety comes from Ross Ashby‘s 1956 book An Introduction to Cybernetics (pdf download from Principia Cybernetica). At the [...]

Boundary critique

Look at a situation. You see one thing. I see another. Each offers justification. Each can cite sources of legitimacy. Each is conditioned by social identities — of belonging to groups that tend to perceive particular issues in particular ways. “Whenever we propose a problem definition or solution,” writes Werner Ulrich, “we cannot help but assert [...]

Russ Ackoff: What’s a system?

This tour-de-force 1994 video of Russ Ackoff covers a lot in 12 minutes. It’s called: “If Russ Ackoff had given a TED Talk.” A fitting title. What’s a system? A system is a whole … that consists of parts, each of which can affect its behavior or its properties. You, for example, are a biological [...]

A draught of a draught

“This whole book is but a draught – nay, but the draught of a draught,” laments Melville’s narrator. “Unfinished,” remains his system of cetology, “even as the Great Cathedral of Cologne was left, with the crane still standing upon the top of the uncompleted tower.” Are all efforts at systemic endeavor so destined? I am [...]