Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

A meeting of systems scientists and systems engineers together as the Systems Science Working Group at the INCOSE International Workshop 2014 provided a forum for “a proposal for collaboration on a pattern language for service systems (science, management, engineering and design)”.  The title is deliberately long, and required some hours to unpack the content in the slide deck.

A Proposal for Collaboration on a Pattern Language for Service Systems (Science, Management, Engineering and Design)

The initiative has been presented as ambitious.  Writing a (good) pattern language is non-trivial.  The originator of the pattern language, Christopher Alexander, published his first work in 1968, and then spent 9 years in collaboration until the 1977 release of the landmark A Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Construction.  In a 2010 interview, Alexander was asked about his perception on similar efforts.

[Rob Hoskins]: What’s been your opinion of subsequent peoples’ attempts at doing Pattern Languages – I’ve seen a couple of different ones, have you seen many?

[Christopher Alexander]:  Some. They’re not that good. The reason I say that is that the people who’ve attempted to work with Pattern Languages, think about them, but are not conscious of the role of morphological elegance in the unfolding. In a biological case, they always are elegant and the unfolding morphology is a sort of magic. But it’s very simple.  It’s not as if it’s magic because it’s complicated, it’s just … like that.

[Rob Hoskins]:  I guess when we were talking before about how a Pattern Language goes from the large down to the small, maybe when we were talking about it as going outwards maybe it is more like an unfolding process?

[Christopher Alexander]:   I think it is yes. The business of going from the large to the small was more for convenience….you could make sense of the book most easily like that but it isn’t necessarily the way to actually do it.

While contributors to this project can learn from prior art in pattern languages, there’s some basic contexts to be understood and appreciated.

A. Service systems (science, management, engineering and design)

Service systems are described in the context of the 2008 report on “Succeeding through service innovation” by the Cambridge IfM and IBM.  The science, management, engineering and design perspectives are from the 2009 Spohrer and Kwan article on”Service Science, Management, Engineering, and Design (SSMED): An Emerging Discipline — Outline & References”, with ten basic concepts underlying a service systems worldview.

B. Pattern language (c.f. pattern catalog)

The working of a pattern language is described with extract of the 1977 book A Pattern Language, with 127 INITIMACY GRADIENT.  The history of the Hillside Group, with a software (design) pattern (definition) illustrates application in a domain other than the built environment.  The variety of forms of writing patterns has been described by Martin Fowler.  Ties between pattern language and systems thinking are drawn by James O. Coplien and Neil Harrison 2004 and by Werner Ulrich 2006.  Christopher Alexander’s “Quality without a Name” is described in Richard P. Gabriel 1996.  Addition domains with ongoing work with pattern languages are evident in Scrum, in group facilitation processes, and in communications in the public sphere.

C. A starter set?  7 conditions from service systems science

February 15th, 2014

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An interview by Performance magazine — with an issue focused on systems in architecture and related disciplines — has now been published. Since the content has been translated into German (as well as reduced for length) — the original interview is posted below, in English.


  • David Ing is the president (2011-2012), of the International Society for the Systems Sciences. He welcomes deep thinkers from around the world to join in an interactive learning experience at the annual meeting of the ISSS, scheduled for July 15-20, 2012, in San Jose, California. David Ing responded to this interview from his home in Toronto, Canada.

Performance, 2012, number 2

1. Could you please, in just a few words, explain to us what the systems sciences deal with and what your specialty area is?

The systems sciences — many of us prefer sciences in the plural — study the nature of parts and wholes. People may say that they are systems thinkers: they view the world primarily as relations of part-whole, part-part and whole-whole arrangements in space and time. Systems thinking enables a basic foundation across a wide variety of domains, including (i) natural systems in geographic and biological domains, and (ii) man-made systems in social and informatic domains.

In 2011-2012, I am serving as the president of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS). Our annual meeting for July 2012 will be at San Jose State University, in California. We expect a broad range of systems researchers and practitioners to come together for interdiscipinary and transciplinary discussions over five days. For 2013, we have plans for the meeting to convene in Hai Phong, Vietnam, led by the next ISSS president, Alexander Laszlo.

My interests are in (i) social systems — particularly in the context of work in business organizations and government — and in (ii) information systems — most recently transformed through the rise of the Internet, globalization, and social computing. Much of my current research is centered on the emerging science of service systems — often called service science — as the world has shifted from industrial age into global service economy.

2. In which areas of research can conclusions and consequences be drawn from the results of systems sciences?

Questions about the systems sciences lead us to think more deeply about the definitions of both science and systems.

May 21st, 2012

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On the discussion list of the Systems Science Working Group, there’s a request to comment on the Overview of Systems Science wiki page (draft version 0.5) that is part of the Guide to Systems Engineering Book of Knowledge.  Basic descriptions are hard to write.  Asking the “what is …” question is a challenge of ontology, and may not cover the “why …” question coming from the perspective of teleology or the “how …” question coming from the history and philosophy of science.

I appreciate that novices like definitions.  In a scholarly style, I generally cite descriptions by individual thinkers who each have a system of ideas.  In an attempt to appreciate commonalities and differences between prominent figures in the systems movement, I had been hosting a series of Systems Sciences Connections Conversations aimed at traversing social ties between individuals.  As a fun example, we asked Allenna Leonard if Stafford Beer and Jane Jacobs knew each other, as they both lived in the Annex neighbourhood in Toronto.  Allenna’s response was, of course, they would see each other in places like the drug store.  Stafford Beer did use Cities and the Wealth of Nations as a foundation for his work in Uruguay, but there wasn’t really an occasion for ongoing collaboration.  Developing a network of systems of ideas is a more modest endeavour than trying to create a system of system of ideas.

Describing the world in objective entities isn’t the way I think.  I’m strongly influenced by the idea of reflexivity (described in the context of social theory on Wikipedia).  Pierre Bourdieu invited a path into his system of ideas as reflexive sociology.  George Soros has a general theory of reflexivity.

For descriptions in this domain — not definitions, for which a dictionary might be a better source — I’ll defer to International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics, edited by Charles François.  I have a copy of the 1997 first edition, which was superseded by a larger 2004 second edition that I haven’t seen.  Based on some entries in this encyclopedia, some Russell Ackoff readings, and my accumulated perspective on systems, I’ll make some assertions.

  • 1. Systems thinking and the systems sciences are parts of an ecology of knowledge
  • 2. Systems thinking prescribes an ordering of synthesis and analysis, emphasizing superordinates (containing wholes)
  • 3. The development of the “systems sciences” historically correlates with the rise of the “social systems sciences” program at the University of Pennsylvania
  • 4. The systems sciences have a heritages in cybernetics and general systems theory
  • 5. Systems thinking and the systems sciences manifest as systems approaches

For considerations of length, the Systems Science Working Group may split the content into two separate articles on systems science and systems methodology.

1. Systems thinking and the systems sciences are parts of an ecology of knowledge

Systems thinking and the systems science could be seen as subfields of knowledge.  They’re related, yet distinct.  Applying systems thinking on describing systems thinking leads to describing an ecology.

ECOLOGY of KNOWLEDGE

“The study of pattern of interrelationships among the various “species” (subsystems, sub-subsystems, etc.) and fields and subfields of knowledge with emphasis on:

November 20th, 2011

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Systems Sciences Meet Service SciencesThe Service Innovation Educational Program at the Tokyo Institute of Technology hosted an “Open Seminar on Service Systems Science” (with a flyer in PDF) — as well as a private “Invited Workshop on Services Science, Management and Engineering” — in February 2009.

I’ve just noticed that much of the content is totally opaque to people who don’t read Japanese, so I’ve posted my (English-language) digest of the meetings on the Coevolving Innovation Commons.  The text is incomplete, but it at least provides a minimal sketch of some of the ideas discussed. (Digital photographs help, too!).  Speakers include:

The 2009 meetings were an annual extension of the 2008 21st Century CoE Symposium, and the first Invited Workshop on SSME.

With many of the researchers coming from a perspective of systems science, the trend has been to work out some of the ideas on an emerging science of service systems.

September 28th, 2009

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In summer 2006, I constructed a curriculum on International Service Business Management for a one-year master’s program in Finland. Appropriate to the Finnish style, this content was assembled in rapid development. With a profile of students admitted mostly with technical undergraduate degrees and 5-to-10 years of working experience, the curriculum leaned toward the style normally expected in a practical executive MBA program.

In contrast, at presentations in August 2007, and then again in March 2008, Jim Kijima proposed a more ambitious challenge — for the new program at the Tokyo Institute of Technology — looking at services science based on systems science. For full-time graduate students, he sees systems science as a “liberal art” where their perspectives are broadened beyond their disciplinary technical teaching. In Japan, it’s not enough to have T-shaped professionals, they expect pi-shaped people, i.e. two downward stems with at least a major and a minor, in addition to the crossbar.

I took the idea of services science and systems science as a challenge, and constructed an article and a presentation for the ISSS Madison 2008 meeting as an exercise. With a target of master’s level engineering and management students, developing this content was based on a few premises:

September 7th, 2008

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If the world is changing so that co-evolution of organizations and technology is required, what is the content that students should be trained in?

Here’s an interesting high-level view of “New ICT Curricula for the 21st Century“:

… the Career Space consortium recommends that ICT Curricula should consist of the following core elements:

  • a scientific base of 30%,
  • a technology base of 30%,
  • an application base and systems thinking of 25% and,
  • a personal and business skills element of up to 15%.

It’s probably something that should be noted, given the “brand name” recognition of sponsors associated with the consortium.

I’m active in the systems science community, so I find it interesting that “systems thinking” is named on the list. This requirement is less surprising, given the origins of the initiative in Europe.

So, should we have a similar interest in “systems thinking” in North America?

March 15th, 2006

Posted In: by David Ing

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