Coevolving Innovations

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Hypotheses Concerning Living Systems | James Grier Miller

Towards a general theory of living systems, we should be looking beyond the singletons of a hierarchical level, i.e. (i) cell, (ii) organ, (iii) organism, (iv) group, (v) organization, (vi) community, (vii) society, and (viii) supranational level.

In a scientific approach, James Grier Miller created a list of hypotheses.  In the 1100+ page book, the hypotheses were not proved or disproved.  However, reviewing some of the hypotheses presents interesting questions as to whether an espoused systems thinker is actually sweeping in knowledge across multiple types of systems, or just reducing scope to a single system or type of system.

In this chapter I focus attention on hypotheses which apply to two or more levels of systems, because of their powerful generality. These are more than propositions of systems theory: they are general systems theoretical hypotheses. Several of the assertions I have made in my fundamental statement of general living systems theory in the preceding two chapters are, of course, cross-level hypotheses or propositions of this sort. Such, for instance, is the assertion that all living systems which survive have all the critical subsystems, or are parasitic upon or symbiotic with systems which do (see page 32).  [….]

Of the hypotheses stated below, some are probably true for all levels, some only for certain levels, some only if modified, and others are probably false. For some the question is: Is it true or false? For others the question is: Does it apply at a given level?

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A General Theory of Living Systems | James Grier Miller

When exploring the meaning of Living Systems, it’s pretty hard to ignore the major works of James Grier Miller (1916–2002) with a book thus titled.  In addition to the 1978 book Living Systems (of 1168 pages!) some additions were published in 1992 in Behavioral Science, the Journal of the Society for General Systems Research.

Miller cites Alfred North Whitehead as a spark for this research.

This book began sometime in its author’s prehistory — whenever an inclusive curiosity and a need to order and integrate arose. Hardly viable at first, the seminal ideas germinated during my college and graduate years, under the influence of one man particularly, my teacher, sponsor, and friend: Alfred North Whitehead. A number of these ideas stem directly from his “philosophy of organism.” Nowadays other terms are popular and, if he were alive today, he might prefer to call his viewpoint a “philosophy of system.” Key concepts later accepted as basic to systems science occur in his writings. Several sentences from his Science and the Modern World show how clearly his thought was a precursor of what today is called systems theory:1

  • 1 Whitehead, A. N. Science and the modern world. New York: Macmillan, 1925, 145, 146, 156.

“Science is taking on a new aspect which is neither purely physical, nor purely biological. It is becoming the study of organisms. Biology is the study of the larger organisms; whereas physics is the study of the smaller organisms.

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When Unfreeze-Move-Refreeze Isn’t Working: Doing, Thinking and Making via Systems Changes Learning | SCiO 2022-07-11

For their community of systems practitioners, Systems and Complexity in Organisation (SCiO) UK invited a presentation at their Virtual Open Meeting in July. Presenting in a 45-minute slot, the slides at were covered in 38 minutes, leaving time for a few questions and comments.

The agenda mainly focused on “Doing”, with “Thinking” and “Making” referring to others presentations now available as recordings online.

A. What if Systems Changes aren’t Unfreeze-Move-Refreeze?
B. Doing: Briefing, then hub + 4 spokes in workshop
C. Thinking: Action learning for facilitators
D. Making: Systematic methods via multiparadigm inquiry
E. Co-learning with the 10-year journey

The “doing” section provides a minimal briefing on (i) rhythmic shifts, (ii) texture, and (iii) propensity. From there, the practices are depicted as a hub with four spokes.

This video available on Youtube has also been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
July 11
[20220711_SCiO_Ing DoingThinkingMakingSystemsChanges.m4v]
(HDPlus 1920×900 645kbps 268MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

July 11
[20220711_SCiO_Ing DoingThinkingMakingSystemsChanges.mp3]

A principal aim for the Systems Changes Learning Circle is provide guidance that is practical in use. While theory and methods have been developed in parallel, this presentation may provide an easier entry into reorienting towards rhythmic shifts as a central focus. Some compatibility of a systems change approach with the rich heritage of systems sciences is retained, and available with a deeper inquiry.… Read more (in a new tab)

Appreciating Systems Changes via Multiparadigm Inquiry: Architectural Design, Ecological Anthropology, Classical Chinese Medicine, Systems Rhythms | ISSS plenary 2022-07-08

On the path towards a publication in 2023, this plenary talk for the International Society for the Systems Sciences 66th Annual Meeting came with a preamble. Slides were provided in advance at, so that details might be later perused at leisure.

Here is the agenda for the presentation:

A. Rising interest in System(s) Change(s)
B. Appreciative Systems (Vickers)
Philosophy of Architectural Design
Philosophy of Ecological Anthropology
Philosophy of Classical Chinese Medicine
Philosophy of Rhythms
D. Methods: Multiparadigm Inquiry, Open Theorizing
E. Systems Changes via Three Philosophies → Systems Rhythms
F. Contributions that Systems Rhythms Offer to Systems Changes

A key aim of the presentation was to elevate systems rhythms as central to understanding. With a 60-minute time slot, an expectation was set that progress towards the table on slide 43 (Part E) would be expedited. Flipping rapidly through philosophies of architectural design, ecological anthropology, and Classical Chinese Medicine, slide 43 was reached at 25 minutes. At 44 minutes, questions and comments were welcomed. While other presentations orient more towards theory and pratice (that the audience may not have already encountered), the emphasis for this session was more methodological.

This video available on Youtube has also been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
July 8
[20220708_ISSS_plenary Ing_AppreciatingSystemsChanges.m4v]
(HD 1536×720 325kbps 237MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

July 8
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Systems Changes Learning: Recasting and reifying rhythmic shifts for doing, alongside thinking and making (preprint)

In which ways are systems changes different from changes? Extending the deep body of knowledge in the systems sciences, rhythmic shifts serve as a gateway for exploration. In a rigourous coevolving of inquiries into (i) doing (praxis), (ii) thinking (theoria), and (iii) making (theoria), a coherent systems approach is being recast and reified.

An article tracing 4 years of action learning by the Systems Changes Learning Circle has been accepted for publication. A special issue of the Journal of Sustainable Smart Behavior is forthcoming, delayed slightly by a pandemic issue amongst the authors. A preprint version is now posted on the Coevolving Commons, to be eventually updated with the final publication.

The issue editors are to be thanked, especially, for permitting the article to run long. The extra space allows expositions on multiple philosophies of sciences, for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with the breadth of reference materials cited.

Here’s an abstract and a view of the article preprint.


In 2022, the Systems Changes Learning Circle is in its fourth year of 10-year journey on “Rethinking Systems Thinking”. In a contextural action learning approach, the Circle has elevated rhythmic shifts as the feature that both resonates with practitioners in the field, and fits with a post-colonial philosophy of science bridging classical Chinese thought with Western professional practices. This multiparadigm inquiry recasts and reifies the activities of doing (praxis), thinking (theoria) and making (poiesis). The facility with this approach is deepened through three levels: (i) educating of attention, orienting novices towards contrasting modes of thought; (ii) learning for co-relating, lending a way for practitioners to critically appreciate their situations, and (iii) learning for articulating, aiding mentors to guide groups productively through mutual learning.… Read more (in a new tab)

Intention or Attention? Humbling Design through Systems Changes Learning | Zaid Khan | ST-ON 2022-05-09

System thinking, starting from graduate studies, can be a continuing (if not lifelong) journey. In parallel to a professional career in strategic communications, Zaid Khan has the distinction having studyied systemic design in the OCADU SFI program (2016-2020), under the supervision of Peter Jones. He became a cofounder of the Systems Changes Learning Circle in 2019, under a premise that our collective journey might take up to 10 years.

For the May 2022 session of Systems Thinking Ontario, Zaid reflected on the overlay of the rhythmic shifts primacy from collaborating in the Circle, following his formal educational activities.

After reviewing the trajectory of his thinking, Zaid invited open conversation.

This video available on Youtube has also been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
May 9
[20220509_ST-ON IntentionAttentionDesignSystemsChangesLearning Khan.m4v]
(FHD 815kbps 718MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

May 9
[20220509_ST-ON IntentionAttentionDesignSystemsChangesLearning Khan.mp3]

With some core ideas now having coalesced amongst Systems Changes Learning Circle cofounders, we welcome the systemic design community to explore new directions in mutual development.

The original description for the Systems Thinking Ontario session follows.

Systems Changes Learning (SCL) is a body of work that offers an updated way of thinking about and responding to change. The three premises of SCL dramatically reposition how we look and understand changes: as rhythms over time that might shift, in accord with the natures of the systems involved.… Read more (in a new tab)

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