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What is a system? (and the challenges of definition)

When asked “what is a system?”, a deep systems thinker may hesitate to respond.  He or she may be reflecting on whether the response should be “what does a system mean to you?”, or “what should a system mean to me”?  The systems thinker recognizes that meaning comes in a context, and is therefore associated with a system of ideas held by an individual (i.e. me or you) occurs within an environment (i.e. my experience or your experience).

In parallel, consider the question “what is a mother”?  If the questioner is asking for a thoroughly researched answer, perhaps the Oxford Dictionary definition for mother will be helpful.

mother

1. a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth:
‘a mother penguin’
‘a mother of three’

2. (Mother, Mother Superior, or Reverend Mother) (especially as a title or form of address) the head of a female religious community.

3. vulgar slang , chiefly North American short for motherfucker.

On the other hand, the responses to “what does a mother mean to you?” and “what does a mother mean to me?” draws on human experience. Every baby knows what a mother means to him or her, before language — or even coherent thought — develops. For that question, perhaps a poem serves better. Here’s one from Francis Cardinal Spelling (who was first named as Francis Joseph Spellman) .

What is a mother?

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When asked “what is a system?”, a deep systems thinker may hesitate to respond.  He or she may be reflecting on whether the response should be “what does a system mean to you?”, or “what should a system mean to me”?  The systems thinker recognizes that meaning comes in a context, and is therefore associated with a system of ideas held by an individual (i.e. me or you) occurs within an environment (i.e. my experience or your experience).

In parallel, consider the question “what is a mother”?  If the questioner is asking for a thoroughly researched answer, perhaps the Oxford Dictionary definition for mother will be helpful.

mother

1. a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth:
‘a mother penguin’
‘a mother of three’

2. (Mother, Mother Superior, or Reverend Mother) (especially as a title or form of address) the head of a female religious community.

3. vulgar slang , chiefly North American short for motherfucker.

On the other hand, the responses to “what does a mother mean to you?” and “what does a mother mean to me?” draws on human experience. Every baby knows what a mother means to him or her, before language — or even coherent thought — develops. For that question, perhaps a poem serves better. Here’s one from Francis Cardinal Spelling (who was first named as Francis Joseph Spellman) .

What is a mother?

Read more (in a new tab)

Service Science, and Service Oriented Architecture

Some months ago, Kelly Lyons recommended me as a panelist for a workshop at Cascon 2008 on “SOA Research Challenges: Current Progress and Future Challenges”, on the topic of Service Science, Management and Engineering. I found that Cascon workshops share existing knowledge and develop new knowledge — in contrast to paper presentations about completed work. The workshop was described in the following way:

This workshop will identify critical SOA research challenges that need to be addressed by the research community for SOA to fulfill its promise. The workshop will present a taxonomy of SOA research issues that will be used to frame the rest of the discussion. The workshop will focus on research needs that are currently causing the greatest pain for SOA practitioners. Topics will include “hard problems”, tooling issues, governance challenges, monitoring through the life cycle, and the longer-term evolution of SOA. The workshop will include presentations by practitioners and the research community in addressing critical unmet issues.

Most of the time, my research work and day job are only loosely coupled. In the Cascon context, my longer-horizon organizational and economic thinking was to be applied with more immediate question issues related to technology. I was given the following outline to as a suggestion for my talk:

  • Overview of the topic, in this case SSME
  • Why is it important to talk about this (rationale)
  • How it relates to SOA
  • What are current efforts in establishing this relationship
  • Challenges and gaps.
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Some months ago, Kelly Lyons recommended me as a panelist for a workshop at Cascon 2008 on “SOA Research Challenges: Current Progress and Future Challenges”, on the topic of Service Science, Management and Engineering. I found that Cascon workshops share existing knowledge and develop new knowledge — in contrast to paper presentations about completed work. The workshop was described in the following way:

This workshop will identify critical SOA research challenges that need to be addressed by the research community for SOA to fulfill its promise. The workshop will present a taxonomy of SOA research issues that will be used to frame the rest of the discussion. The workshop will focus on research needs that are currently causing the greatest pain for SOA practitioners. Topics will include “hard problems”, tooling issues, governance challenges, monitoring through the life cycle, and the longer-term evolution of SOA. The workshop will include presentations by practitioners and the research community in addressing critical unmet issues.

Most of the time, my research work and day job are only loosely coupled. In the Cascon context, my longer-horizon organizational and economic thinking was to be applied with more immediate question issues related to technology. I was given the following outline to as a suggestion for my talk:

  • Overview of the topic, in this case SSME
  • Why is it important to talk about this (rationale)
  • How it relates to SOA
  • What are current efforts in establishing this relationship
  • Challenges and gaps.
Read more (in a new tab)
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    • 1969, 1981 Emery, System Thinking: Selected Readings
      Social Systems Science graduate students in 1970s-1980s with #RussellAckoff, #EricTrist + #HasanOzbehkhan at U. Pennsylvania Wharton School were assigned the Penguin paperback #SystemsThinking reader edited by #FredEEmery, with updated editions evolving contents.
    • 1968 Buckley, “Modern Systems Research for the Behavioral Scientist: A Sourcebook”
      Resurfacing 1968 Buckley, “Modern Systems Research for the Behavioral Scientist: A Sourcebook” for interests in #SystemsThinking #SocioCybernetics #GeneralSystemsTheory #OrganizationScience . Republication in 2017 hardcopy may be more complete.
    • Wholism, reductionism (Francois, 2004)
      Proponents of #SystemsThinking often espouse holism to counter over-emphasis on reductionism. Reading some definitions from an encyclopedia positions one in the context of the other (François 2004).
    • It matters (word use)
      Saying “it doesn’t matter” or “it matters” is a common expression in everyday English. For scholarly work, I want to “keep using that word“, while ensuring it means what I want it to mean. The Oxford English Dictionary (third edition, March 2001) has three entries for “matter”. The first two entries for a noun. The […]
    • Systemic Change, Systematic Change, Systems Change (Reynolds, 2011)
      It's been challenging to find sources that specifically define two-word phrases -- i.e. "systemic change", "systematic change", "systems change" -- as opposed to loosely inferring reductively from one-word definitions in recombination. MartinReynolds @OpenUniversity clarifies uses of the phrases, with a critical eye into motives for choosing a specific label, as well as associated risks and […]
    • Environmental c.f. ecological (Francois, 2004; Allen, Giampietro Little 2003)
      The term "environmental" can be mixed up with "ecological", when the meanings are different. We can look at the encyclopedia definitions (François 2004), and then compare the two in terms of applied science (i.e. engineering with (#TimothyFHAllen @MarioGiampietro and #AmandaMLittle, 2003).
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      Discovering more of the neighbourhood, bicycling mostly in the mornings.
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