Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

Currently Viewing Posts Tagged models

System types as purposeful, and displaying choice

Russell Ackoff has a four-way categorization of systems that I’ve found useful, and often shows up in my presentations.  I’ve had a history of citing a 1996 article that is peer-reviewed.  However, when I first saw him in person, speaking with an overhead slide projector in 1997, I recalled a slightly different language.  I’ve now discovered an article that is consistent with my memory.

In 1996, Ackoff & Gharajedaghi wrote (in a language consistent with the Ackoff & Emery 1972 On Purposeful Systems book):

Whatever one considers a system to be — and there is considerable agreement as to what a system is — there are obviously different ways of classifying them.  For example, they can be classified by size, by discipline (physical, biological, psychological, and so on), by location, by function, and many other ways as well.  The choice of a classification scheme normally depends on its intended use.  For our purposes — examining the consequences of mismatching systems and their models — the critical classifying variable is purpose and purpose is a matter of choice.

An entity is purposeful if it can produce (1) the same functionally defined outcome in different ways in the same environment, and (2) functionally different outcomes in the same and different environments.  Although the ability to make choices is necessary for purposefulness, it is not sufficient.  An entity that can behave differently but produce only one outcome in any one of a set of different environments is goal-seeking, not purposeful.  Servo-mechanisms are goal-seeking.  In contrast, people are obviously purposeful systems, and so are certain types of social groups.  An entity can be multi-goal-seeking if it is goal-seeking in each of two of more different environments.

Types of Systems and Models

There are three basic types of systems and models of them, and a meta-system:  one that contains all three types as parts of it (see Table 1):

Table 1: Types of systems and models
Systems and models Parts Whole
Deterministic Not purposeful Not purposeful
Animated Not purposeful Purposeful
Social Purposeful Purposeful
Ecological Purposeful Not purposeful

(1) Deterministic:  systems and models in which neither the parts nor the whole are purposeful.

(2) Animated:  systems and models in which the whole is purposeful but the parts are not.

(3) Social:  systems and models in which both the parts and the whole are purposeful.

These three types of systems form a hierarchy in the following sense: animated systems have deterministic systems as their parts.  In addition, some of them can create and use deterministic systems, but not vice-versa.  Social systems have animated systems as their parts.  All three types of system are contained in ecological systems, some of whose parts are purposeful, but not the whole.  For example, Earth is an ecological sysetm that has no purpose of its own but contains social and animate systems that do, and deterministic systems that don’t.  [pp. 13-14]

In the unreviewed 2003 paper, Ackoff & Gharajedaghi footnoted “1. This article is a revision and extension of an article we published earlier: “Reflections on Systems and Their Models,” Systems Research, Vol. 13, No. 1, March 1996, pp. 13-23″.  The table that appears in 2003 is different from that in 1996:

Russell Ackoff has a four-way categorization of systems that I’ve found useful, and often shows up in my presentations.  I’ve had a history of citing a 1996 article that is peer-reviewed.  However, when I first saw him in person, speaking with an overhead slide projector in 1997, I recalled a slightly different language.  I’ve now discovered an article that is consistent with my memory.

In 1996, Ackoff & Gharajedaghi wrote (in a language consistent with the Ackoff & Emery 1972 On Purposeful Systems book):

Whatever one considers a system to be — and there is considerable agreement as to what a system is — there are obviously different ways of classifying them.  For example, they can be classified by size, by discipline (physical, biological, psychological, and so on), by location, by function, and many other ways as well.  The choice of a classification scheme normally depends on its intended use.  For our purposes — examining the consequences of mismatching systems and their models — the critical classifying variable is purpose and purpose is a matter of choice.

An entity is purposeful if it can produce (1) the same functionally defined outcome in different ways in the same environment, and (2) functionally different outcomes in the same and different environments.  Although the ability to make choices is necessary for purposefulness, it is not sufficient.  An entity that can behave differently but produce only one outcome in any one of a set of different environments is goal-seeking, not purposeful.  Servo-mechanisms are goal-seeking.  In contrast, people are obviously purposeful systems, and so are certain types of social groups.  An entity can be multi-goal-seeking if it is goal-seeking in each of two of more different environments.

Types of Systems and Models

There are three basic types of systems and models of them, and a meta-system:  one that contains all three types as parts of it (see Table 1):

Table 1: Types of systems and models
Systems and models Parts Whole
Deterministic Not purposeful Not purposeful
Animated Not purposeful Purposeful
Social Purposeful Purposeful
Ecological Purposeful Not purposeful

(1) Deterministic:  systems and models in which neither the parts nor the whole are purposeful.

(2) Animated:  systems and models in which the whole is purposeful but the parts are not.

(3) Social:  systems and models in which both the parts and the whole are purposeful.

These three types of systems form a hierarchy in the following sense: animated systems have deterministic systems as their parts.  In addition, some of them can create and use deterministic systems, but not vice-versa.  Social systems have animated systems as their parts.  All three types of system are contained in ecological systems, some of whose parts are purposeful, but not the whole.  For example, Earth is an ecological sysetm that has no purpose of its own but contains social and animate systems that do, and deterministic systems that don’t.  [pp. 13-14]

In the unreviewed 2003 paper, Ackoff & Gharajedaghi footnoted “1. This article is a revision and extension of an article we published earlier: “Reflections on Systems and Their Models,” Systems Research, Vol. 13, No. 1, March 1996, pp. 13-23″.  The table that appears in 2003 is different from that in 1996:

Conversations on an emerging science of service systems (IFSR Pernegg 2010)

Earlier this year, in April, the International Federation for Systems Research hosted its biannual research conversation, this time in Pernegg, Austria.  This meeting was a four-day opportunity to continue developing ideas on the emerging science of service systems begun in July 2009.

The proceedings from the meeting have now been published.  I’ve extracted the chapter for our team as a separate downloadable document.  The report starts with a description of our activities, and an outline of our progress.

The conversation began with self-reflections on personal experiences leading each of the individuals to the systems sciences, acknowledging the influence of those trajectories on their perspectives on service systems.  In recognition of this science of service systems as a potentially a new paradigm, much of the time together was spent in sensemaking about the intersection between ongoing services research and systems sciences perspectives.  This sensemaking led the team to focus the dialogue more on posing the right questions to clarify thinking broadly, as opposed to diving deeply towards solutions that would be tied up as issues within a problematique.

Earlier this year, in April, the International Federation for Systems Research hosted its biannual research conversation, this time in Pernegg, Austria.  This meeting was a four-day opportunity to continue developing ideas on the emerging science of service systems begun in July 2009.

The proceedings from the meeting have now been published.  I’ve extracted the chapter for our team as a separate downloadable document.  The report starts with a description of our activities, and an outline of our progress.

The conversation began with self-reflections on personal experiences leading each of the individuals to the systems sciences, acknowledging the influence of those trajectories on their perspectives on service systems.  In recognition of this science of service systems as a potentially a new paradigm, much of the time together was spent in sensemaking about the intersection between ongoing services research and systems sciences perspectives.  This sensemaking led the team to focus the dialogue more on posing the right questions to clarify thinking broadly, as opposed to diving deeply towards solutions that would be tied up as issues within a problematique.

Metaphors and Models

What is a business?  How can (or should) an expert business practitioner relay his or her knowledge to another interested party?  Trying to understand these questions leads down a path of debating the merits and demerits of understanding through metaphors, and understanding through models.  This eventually ends up with a discussion of roots in philosophy of science.

During the Seiad project in 1977, Ian Simmonds and I had many discussions about understanding business, filling up the whiteboard in his office at the Watson Research Center.1 My studies into business strategy reflected the two primary foundations:  microeconomics  — Michael Porter is a leading proponent of this approach — and organization theory  — with roots in the research of the Tavistock Institute, and the sociotechnical systems thinking from Fred Emery and Eric Trist.  Add onto that my personal bent towards decision support systems — Peter Keen‘s research while at CISR at the Sloan School at MIT was highly influential — and a strategic view of marketing that can be described as Market-Driven Strategy, as described by George Day.  These all represent models of business.

What is a business?  How can (or should) an expert business practitioner relay his or her knowledge to another interested party?  Trying to understand these questions leads down a path of debating the merits and demerits of understanding through metaphors, and understanding through models.  This eventually ends up with a discussion of roots in philosophy of science.

During the Seiad project in 1977, Ian Simmonds and I had many discussions about understanding business, filling up the whiteboard in his office at the Watson Research Center.1 My studies into business strategy reflected the two primary foundations:  microeconomics  — Michael Porter is a leading proponent of this approach — and organization theory  — with roots in the research of the Tavistock Institute, and the sociotechnical systems thinking from Fred Emery and Eric Trist.  Add onto that my personal bent towards decision support systems — Peter Keen‘s research while at CISR at the Sloan School at MIT was highly influential — and a strategic view of marketing that can be described as Market-Driven Strategy, as described by George Day.  These all represent models of business.

  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • RSS qoto.org/@daviding (Mastodon)

    • New status by daviding May 19, 2019
      Fit the people around an organization; or an organization around the people? Working backwards, say @MitroffCrisis + #HaroldLinstone, from current concrete choices to uncertain futures, surfaces strategic assumptions in a collective decision, better than starting with an abstract scorecard to rank candidates. The Unbounded Mind is an easier-reading follow-on to The Design of Inquiry Systems […]
    • New status by daviding April 28, 2019
      Our house is on the edge of a flood plain. We know this, because the end of our street in Toronto Riverside was at Lake Ontario, before landfill in the early 1900s. Not everyone knows about what's under the place where they live. "Poor flood-risk maps, or none at all, are keeping Canadian communities in […]
    • New status by daviding April 26, 2019
      An open education system encourages scholarship that embraces perspectives from around the world. The Scholar Rescue Fund is a hopeful initiative that, in a perfect world, wouldn't have to exist. "Canada playing major role as safe haven for at-risk academics from strife-torn countries" | Danielle Edwards | April 23, 2019 | Globe & Mail at […]
    • New status by daviding April 25, 2019
      Moving from coal to green energy for Dong (nee Danish Oil and Natural Gas) started in 2008, leading to an CEO change in 2012, to a 2017 divestment of fossil-fuel bases businesses. Perseverance can pay off, but patience goes through trials. "A tale of transformation: the Danish company that went from black to green energy" […]
    • New status by daviding April 21, 2019
      Public libraries can become hubs for peer-to-peer learning. In the Let's Learn Teach Online program, #TorontoLibrary has partnered with #P2PU, #CiscoNetAcad, #TorontoESS, and #GBCollege to facilitate "Linux Unhatched" and "Introduction to IoT". Larysa Essex shared their experiences at the @gtalug meeting on April 9, 2019. https://daviding.wordpress.com/2019/04/20/2019-04-09-larysa-essex-linux-unhatched-learning-circles-at-toronto-public-library-web-video/
  • RSS on IngBrief

  • RSS on Media Queue

  • RSS on daviding.com

    • 2019/04 Moments April 2019
      End of a 23-day visit in Shanghai, readjusting to Eastern Time with the many lecture, meetup, friends and family distractions of Toronto.
    • 2019/03 Moments March 2019
      Month of intensive lectures and research meetings, in Toronto and then in Shanghai, with social breaks on local excursions to clear minds.
    • 2019/02 Moments February 2019
      Reduced exercise outside with a cold and snowy February, with excursions out of the house to warm places with family, friends and colleagues.
    • 2019/01 Moments January 2019
      January in Toronto has lots of intellectual offerings and artistic exhibitions to attract the curious out of warm homes, through cold and snow.
    • 2018/12 Moments December 2018
      Tried to have a normal month, with a busy social calendar of birthdays, a funeral plus Christmas season, while daily temperatures hovered just above freezing.
    • 2018/11 Moments November 2011
      Mentally busy month with a conference coming to town, and maintaining the regular pattern of local meetings, travel around town only by bicycle.
  • Meta

  • Creative Commons License
    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
    Theme modified from DevDmBootstrap4 by Danny Machal