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Crisis in systems thinking

Janos Korn (School of Design and Mathematics, Middlesex University, London, UK)

Kybernetes

ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 30 July 2019

Issue publication date: 19 June 2020

Abstract

Purpose

The current field of systems thinking consists of a variety of views, methods and a number of organisations involved with these views which suggests a state of confusion and fragmentation of the field which fundamentally is supposed to be a uniform view of structures or systems. This can be interpreted as a “crisis situation”. A resolution of the crisis in the form of a “new science of systems” is proposed. Assuming this new science becomes part of the field of systems thinking, a debate of the elements of the field is suggested with a view to consider its current state and future developments. “Crisis - resolution - debate” is the central theme of the paper.

Design/methodology/approach

The field of current systems thinking is described in terms of views, methods and organisations and is seen as the “problematic issue”. A “new science of systems” strongly rooted in natural language as its primary symbolism and consisting of three general principles of systems and linguistic modelling is outlined to be considered as the resolution of the crisis. A set of criteria is discussed for use of judging the quality of models and element of the field of systems thinking including the “new science of systems”. To demonstrate a preliminary use of these criteria, the same example is worked out using both, the “soft systems methodology” and “linguistic modelling” for comparison.

Findings

The universal view of parts of the world as structures or systems is inconsistent with the multiple methods basically pursuing the same purpose: modelling aspects of systems which prevail in current systems thinking. To try to resolve this anomaly an equally universally applicable approach, the “new science of systems” is proposed which can also serve as an aid to problem solving, in particular to an integrated systems and product design. This approach is to be part of the suggested debate of the field of systems thinking. In general, there is no alternative to the structural view.

Research limitations/implications

The “new science of systems”, if found acceptable, can offer research opportunities in new applications of accepted branches of knowledge like logic, linguistics, mathematics of ordered pairs, uncertainties and in the philosophy of science. New teaching schemes can be developed at classroom level combined with engineering as creator of novelties with linguistics as the symbolism to supplement mathematics. Further considerations can be given to current methodologies of systems thinking as part of a debate with a view of future developments in exploring pioneering ideas. New software is needed for working out the dynamics of scenarios.

Practical implications

The debate, if it takes place, should result in new developments in the field of systems thinking such as concepts accepted as fundamental in the discipline of systems. Applications of the “new science of systems” to larger scale scenarios and organisations guided by the universal scheme in Figure 1 and linguistic modelling with software are needed for development of schemes for problem solving schemes “utilising” or “producing” products.

Social implications

The “new science of systems” is rooted in accepted branches of knowledge; it is highly teachable at school and university levels and should lead to use by professionals and in everyday life activities once found acceptable. The use of the scheme in Figure 1 should help in clarifying confusing scenarios and to aid problem solving.

Originality/value

The suggestion of a debate is an original idea. The “new science of systems” consists of three general principles of systems implemented by linguistic modelling of static and dynamic states. Mathematics of uncertainty and topics from conventional science at the object level supplement the “new science” which together form the “scientific enterprise”. The notions of cognitive value and informative content of models are introduced for evaluating their cognitive worth.

Keywords

Citation

Korn, J. (2020), "Crisis in systems thinking", Kybernetes, Vol. 49 No. 7, pp. 1915-1934. https://doi.org/10.1108/K-01-2019-0026

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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