Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

Video and audio recordings of my lecture for the Urban Systems course at Aalto University in February have now been produced.  While I was in Finland teaching in another department, I was asked to lecture on Smarter Cities.

Here’s the abstract that was sent in advance:

The popularization of the Smarter Cities movement coincided with IBM’s campaign originating from 2009. The Smarter Cities ideas was an outgrowth from the Smarter Planet initiatives, which had emerged from the IBM Global Innovation Outlooks beginning in 2004.

This speaker was a consultant at IBM involved in Smarter Cities engagements, while simultanously conducing research into Service Systems Science.

The evolution of ideas both outside and inside IBM are reviewed, through a history of (i) systems sciences; (ii) service science, management, engineering and design (SSMED), (iii) service systems science; and (iv) smarter planet and smarter cities. Looking forward, the prospects for the (v) cognitive era and a (vi) service systems thinking is outlined.

Audio [20160210_Aalto_UrbanSystems_Ing_SystemsCoevolving.mp3]
(79MB, 1h22m24s)
(volume boosted 3db, 79MB, 1h22m24s)
Video HD (1h22m09s)
H.264 MP4 [1280×720 417Kbps m4v]
[1280×720 3779Kbps m4v]
WebM [1280×720 316Kbps webm]
[1280×720 3604Kbps m4v]

As a quicker reference, the slides may be useful if fast-forwarding to a specific section is desired.

presentation slides for Systems Coevolving: Sciences, Service, Smarter, Cognitive

May 29th, 2016

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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.


“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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Since 2008, I’ve been conducting research on service systems and the systems sciences, with my core collaborators Gary Metcalf, Jennifer Wilby and Kyoichi (Jim) Kijima.  As senior members of the International Society for the Systems Sciences, we’ve been working towards a more formal association with the International Council on Systems Engineering, and with the Systems Science Working Group in particular.  Our organizations came together for the first time in the INCOSE International Symposium 2010, in Chicago.

For the International Symposium, our contribution was a panel on our progress in researching service systems and the systems sciences, with position papers and presentation slides discussed in Chicago in July.  After that meeting, a summary of the session was reported in an article published in INCOSE Insight in October.

The publications page on this web site includes links to the:

Our core group will be continuing our research into 2011, with a two-day co-learning workshop at the International Workshop 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The linkages between the systems sciences and systems engineering should continue to develop.

December 31st, 2010

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Earlier this year during the Russell Ackoff memorial, I reconnected with some members of the systems community in Philadelphia.  This event was taken as an opportunity to reinvigorate the systems community, in honour of Russ.  With his colleagues and former students scattered around the world, an Internet-based presence seemed appropriate.

Systems Community of InquiryWe’ve now formally launched — the Systems Community of InquiryIt is intended as open, worldwide network of individuals interested in systems thinking, the systems sciences and/or systems practice.

Inquiry is “an activity which produces knowledge” (Churchman, 1971).  The shared foundations and perspective in systems suggests more than a community of interest, but less than a community of practice (Wenger, 1999).  The interactions as a community aim to (i) foster interactions contributing knowledge and wisdom to the online world, and (ii) cultivate social relationships between systemicists.

The web interface follows an activity stream style of interaction, as has become popular with Facebook.  In the interest of completely open communications,  content posted on is visible anywhere the Internet is accessible, and actively crawled by search engines.  There is no ambiguity about privacy with this online community: all communications are public.  The feature of choosing your “friends” on this web site enables following a smaller set of contributors, as the size of the social network increases.  Discussions with longer-running threads can be organized with groups and forums provided on the site.

July 24th, 2010

Posted In: blogging, systems

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In Toronto — partially in response to members of the International Society for the Systems Sciences looking for sustainable alternatives to the pattern of annual meetings outside of North America every other year — we’ve started a Systems Sciences Meetup group.  There’s a rich history of people and events in the systems sciences in Toronto, and we’ve been remiss in keeping the momentum going.

The purpose of these meetups is to enable conversations amongst like-minded people interested in (continuing to) climb the learning curve on (the) systems science(s).  Having a keynote speaker provides a centre around which the conversations can coalesce.  In November 2009, Allenna Leonard led the first meetup with a talk on “What are the Systems Sciences”.  Given the holiday season, we deferred the next meeting to January.

With the announcement of a Memorial Celebration for Russell Ackoff in Philadelphia in February, it seemed natural to prepare a session for those unfamiliar with his life and work.  Thus, for the January 6 Systems Sciences Meetup, I’ll be leading a talk on “Russell Ackoff, abridged“.  Having satisfied a personal goal to create a single double-sided page of  highlights, I’ll be relying on two maps as visual aids.

Following a style prescribed by the master himself — not just examining the system, but also its environment — the professional timeline of Russell Ackoff includes his relationships with the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations (that included Fred Emery and Eric Trist), as well as C. West Churchman and Peter Drucker.  Ackoff became a professor emeritus in 1986, continuing his involvement with the systems community through research institutions honouring him, and conferences featuring him for keynotes.  Ackoff’s legacy in the systems sciences lives on through former students in the Social Systems Science (S3) program at the University of Pennsylvania (1975-1988).  A full-size view of this professional timeline is available as an interactive page with links.


For a conceptual view of Russell Ackoff, a map of his writings selects from chapters collected in Ackoff’s Best (1999).  Five chapters from the first three parts of the book — systems, planning, and applications — give a feel for his system of ideas.  The full-size view of these selected writings is also available as an interactive page with links.

January 4th, 2010

Posted In: systems

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Activity on the web site for the International Society for the Systems Sciences happens in spurts. This past weekend, we got two major news items up:

So, you can plan to visit us in the summer in Wisconsin, and until the weather gets better, listen to audio from the previous years where you didn’t attend.

December 2nd, 2007

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