Systems Theory & Cybernetics
General Systems Theory
Crisis, conflict, and organizational change is rooted in systems theory and cybernetics. Systems theory is the interdisciplinary study of systems. A system is a cohesive conglomeration of interrelated and interdependent parts which can be natural or human-made. Every system is bounded by space and time, influenced by its environment, defined by its structure and purpose, and expressed through its functioning. A system may be more than the sum of its parts if it expresses synergy or emergent behavior.
Changing one part of a system may affect other parts or the whole system. It may be possible to predict these changes in patterns of behavior. For systems that learn and adapt, the growth and the degree of adaptation depend upon how well the system is engaged with its environment. Some systems support other systems, maintaining the other system to prevent failure.
The goals of systems theory are to model a system’s dynamics, constraints, conditions, and to clarify principles that can be discerned and applied to other systems at every level of nesting. And in a wide range of fields for achieving optimized equifinality.
General systems theory broadly applies concepts and principles, as opposed to concepts and principles specific to one domain of knowledge. It distinguishes dynamic or active systems from static or passive systems. Active systems are activity structures or components that interact in behaviors and processes. Passive systems are structures and components that are being processed. For example, a program is passive when it is a disc file and active when it runs in memory. The field is related to systems thinking, machine logic, and systems engineering.
Systems thinking is the ability or skill to perform problem solving in complex systems. In application it has been defined as both a skill and an awareness. A system is an entity with interrelated and interdependent parts; it is defined by its boundaries and is more than the sum of its parts (subsystem). Changing one part of the system affects other parts and the whole system, with predictable patterns of behavior. Furthermore, the individuals working as part of a system are components as well, therefore contributing to its outcome.
Cybernetics is a subsystem of general systems theory. Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems, their structures, constraints, and possibilities. Cybernetics is applicable when a system being analyzed incorporates a closed signaling loop. Originally, it was referred to as a “circular causal” relationship. The action by the system generates some change in its environment and that change is reflected in the system in some manner (feedback) that triggers a system change.
The essential goal of the broad field of cybernetics is to understand and define the functions and processes of systems that have goals and that participate in causal chains. Causal chains that move from action to sensing to comparison with desired goal, and again to action. Its focus is how anything (digital, mechanical, or biological) processes information, reacts to information, and changes or can be changed to better accomplish the first two tasks. Cybernetics is relevant to mechanical, physical, biological, cognitive, and social systems.
A system is a group of interacting or interrelated entities that form a unified whole. A system is a cohesive conglomeration of interrelated and interdependent parts which can be natural or human-made. Every system is bounded by space and time, influenced by its environment, defined by its structure and purpose, and expressed through its functioning. A system may be more than the sum of its parts if it expresses synergy or emergent behavior.
Social systems are the patterned networks of relationships constituting a coherent whole that exist between individuals, groups, and institutions. It is the formal structure of role and status that can form in a small, stable group. An individual may belong to multiple social systems at once. Examples of social systems include nuclear family units, communities, cities, nations, college campuses, corporations, and industries. The organization and definition of groups within a social system depend on various shared properties such as location, socioeconomic status, race, religion, societal function, or other distinguishable features.
A social structure is a pattern of relationships. They are social organizations of individuals in various life situations. Structures are applicable to people in how a society is as a system organized by a characteristic pattern of relationships. This is known as the social organization of the group.
Structure and agency are two confronted theories about human behavior. In this context, agency refers to the individual human capacity to act independently and make free choices. Structure here refers to factors such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, customs, etc. that seem to limit or influence individual opportunities.
Feedback occurs when outputs of a system are routed back as inputs as part of a chain of cause-and-effect that forms a circuit or loop. The system can then be said to feed back into itself. The notion of cause-and-effect must be handled carefully when applied to feedback systems. The cause is partly responsible for the effect, and the effect is partly dependent on the cause in a circular motion.