cepp_logo5.gif (13296 bytes)


newspaper.gif (867 bytes)

<Back to Articles Page

The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

A systematic approach to system theory, April 13, 2007, 2D.

Organizations are social entities that are made people who work together interdependently to accomplish a common goal or set of goals.  The individuals who give organizations life perform the many different tasks and functions needed for organizations to accomplish their missions.  For those who study organizations and ways to improve their functioning, the concepts of Systems Theory are particularly beneficial. 

A system is composed of interdependent parts that are arranged a particular order to accomplish a purpose.   Our bodies are examples of systems.  They are composed of different parts, or elements, that influence and are influenced by other parts of the system.  The digestive system is sub-system of the human body, and a system unto itself.  It is also a containing system, or super-system, of smaller systems.  The mouth, for example, is part of the digestive system and is a system unto itself.  Systems are related to complementary and dependent systems.  Failure to perform in one element in a system can result in a cascading failure of the system and related systems.  The failure of an organ in the digestive system can result in the failure of the entire system and then failure in all dependent systems until a person’s whole body ceases to function.

In the 1950s, Kenneth Boulding developed a classification for different types of systems.  He arranged these from least complex to most complex.  These were:

  • Framework—like picture frames, tables, or chairs.
  • Clockwork—like grandfather clocks, the solar system, and simple machines.
  • Control—like thermostats (they control themselves within limits).
  • Cell—the most basic form of life.
  • Plant—living organisms with differentiated and mutually dependent parts.
  • Animal—self-awareness and abilities to learn, adapt, and change behaviors.
  • Human—self-consciousness in addition to self-awareness
  • Social—groups of individuals with differentiated and dependent roles.
  • Transcendental—ultimate sets of knowledge and truth.

The 1950s was an era when organizational theorists began shifting from “machine-like” to “life-like” views of organizations.  As seen in Boulding’s typology, the change from machine systems to living systems occurs between “control” and “cell” systems.  The machine-like view of organizations dominated organization theory through the industrial revolution.  Control and human resource management decisions were developed from a machine perspective.  As discovered by later management researchers and practitioners, organizations are much more complex than originally conceived.  As identified by Boulding, organizations, or social systems, are some of the most complex types of systems that there are.  Organizations require considerably more guidance and control than previously realized.

The similarities in definitions and concepts between organizations and systems provides added insight into ways to structure and guide organizations.  Systems theory provides managers with a way to understand the concepts of differentiation, interdependence, structure, and complexity.  Awareness and understanding these principles will help managers work more effectively with suppliers, customers, and related departments and improve the ways they guide their people, units, and organizations.

<Back to Articles Page

reporternews.gif (5314 bytes)

© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved