Coevolving Innovations

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Business Models and Evolving Economic Paradigms: A Systems Science Approach

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:

  • Engineering and management students need some motivation to appreciate the foundations of a science of service systems, and of systems science. I’ve chosen the domain of business models, supported by reference sources compatible with systems science. Other teachers might choose alternative topics and/or readings. I’m taking advantage of my research and experiences in the subject, complemented by an expectation that students might be generally curious about how businesses work.
  • Service businesses are highly industrialized, so it’s hard to make distinctions about which parts of the traditional 20th century body of knowledge are or are not relevant. I make the case for thinking about a service paradigm as contrasted from an industrial paradigm, with an additional foil in a third view: the agricultural paradigm. Each paradigm operates with distinct features, and coevolves in the context influenced by the others.
  • The body of knowledge on a science of service systems is far from mature, so students should expect to be early learners who are co-developing knowledge. As an alternative to assigning multiple textbooks as reading, discussions are centered around a series of systems topics intended to provoke thinking and self-reflection.

The presentation and article do not represent a cookbook on the service paradigm, but instead a proposed guide for learning. The list of ten topics was chosen to accommodate meeting in ten sessions (i.e. the number of weeks in a quarter, or slightly fewer than the number of weeks in a semester). Readings were selected with breadth in mind. The practicalities of delivering a seminar on a given schedule have not yet been worked out.

For curriculum developers, the contrast between the practical orientation of the 2006 content and the inductive style in this 2008 content reflects different mindsets in different student audiences. The reading list may also be of interest to lifelong learners seeking a relevant and comprehensive compendium of management thinking founded in systems science. This article is a starting point that I look forward to further developing for years to come.


References

David Ing, “Business Models and Evolving Economic Paradigms: A Systems Science Approach “, Proceedings of the 52nd Annual Conference of the International Society for the Systems Sciences, (Jennifer Wilby, editor), presented at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, July 16, 2008, available on the Coevolving Innovations Commons.


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