Coevolving Innovations

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A General Theory of Living Systems | James Grier Miller

When exploring the meaning of Living Systems, it’s pretty hard to ignore the major works of James Grier Miller (1916–2002) with a book thus titled.  In addition to the 1978 book Living Systems (of 1168 pages!) some additions were published in 1992 in Behavioral Science, the Journal of the Society for General Systems Research.

Miller cites Alfred North Whitehead as a spark for this research.

This book began sometime in its author’s prehistory — whenever an inclusive curiosity and a need to order and integrate arose. Hardly viable at first, the seminal ideas germinated during my college and graduate years, under the influence of one man particularly, my teacher, sponsor, and friend: Alfred North Whitehead. A number of these ideas stem directly from his “philosophy of organism.” Nowadays other terms are popular and, if he were alive today, he might prefer to call his viewpoint a “philosophy of system.” Key concepts later accepted as basic to systems science occur in his writings. Several sentences from his Science and the Modern World show how clearly his thought was a precursor of what today is called systems theory:1

  • 1 Whitehead, A. N. Science and the modern world. New York: Macmillan, 1925, 145, 146, 156.

“Science is taking on a new aspect which is neither purely physical, nor purely biological. It is becoming the study of organisms. Biology is the study of the larger organisms; whereas physics is the study of the smaller organisms.

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When Unfreeze-Move-Refreeze Isn’t Working: Doing, Thinking and Making via Systems Changes Learning | SCiO 2022-07-11

For their community of systems practitioners, Systems and Complexity in Organisation (SCiO) UK invited a presentation at their Virtual Open Meeting in July. Presenting in a 45-minute slot, the slides at http://coevolving.com/commons/2022-07-11-doing-thinking-making-systems-changes were covered in 38 minutes, leaving time for a few questions and comments.

The agenda mainly focused on “Doing”, with “Thinking” and “Making” referring to others presentations now available as recordings online.

A. What if Systems Changes aren’t Unfreeze-Move-Refreeze?
B. Doing: Briefing, then hub + 4 spokes in workshop
C. Thinking: Action learning for facilitators
D. Making: Systematic methods via multiparadigm inquiry
E. Co-learning with the 10-year journey

The “doing” section provides a minimal briefing on (i) rhythmic shifts, (ii) texture, and (iii) propensity. From there, the practices are depicted as a hub with four spokes.

This video available on Youtube has also been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
July 11
(48m39s)
[20220711_SCiO_Ing DoingThinkingMakingSystemsChanges.m4v]
(HDPlus 1920×900 645kbps 268MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

Audio
July 11
(48m39s)
[20220711_SCiO_Ing DoingThinkingMakingSystemsChanges.mp3]
(46.6MB)

A principal aim for the Systems Changes Learning Circle is provide guidance that is practical in use. While theory and methods have been developed in parallel, this presentation may provide an easier entry into reorienting towards rhythmic shifts as a central focus. Some compatibility of a systems change approach with the rich heritage of systems sciences is retained, and available with a deeper inquiry.… Read more (in a new tab)

Appreciating Systems Changes via Multiparadigm Inquiry: Architectural Design, Ecological Anthropology, Classical Chinese Medicine, Systems Rhythms | ISSS plenary 2022-07-08

On the path towards a publication in 2023, this plenary talk for the International Society for the Systems Sciences 66th Annual Meeting came with a preamble. Slides were provided in advance at http://coevolving.com/commons/2022-07-08-appreciating-systems-changes, so that details might be later perused at leisure.

Here is the agenda for the presentation:

A. Rising interest in System(s) Change(s)
B. Appreciative Systems (Vickers)
C1.
Philosophy of Architectural Design
C2.
Philosophy of Ecological Anthropology
C3.
Philosophy of Classical Chinese Medicine
C4.
Philosophy of Rhythms
D. Methods: Multiparadigm Inquiry, Open Theorizing
E. Systems Changes via Three Philosophies → Systems Rhythms
F. Contributions that Systems Rhythms Offer to Systems Changes

A key aim of the presentation was to elevate systems rhythms as central to understanding. With a 60-minute time slot, an expectation was set that progress towards the table on slide 43 (Part E) would be expedited. Flipping rapidly through philosophies of architectural design, ecological anthropology, and Classical Chinese Medicine, slide 43 was reached at 25 minutes. At 44 minutes, questions and comments were welcomed. While other presentations orient more towards theory and pratice (that the audience may not have already encountered), the emphasis for this session was more methodological.

This video available on Youtube has also been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
July 8
(1h12m)
[20220708_ISSS_plenary Ing_AppreciatingSystemsChanges.m4v]
(HD 1536×720 325kbps 237MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

Audio
July 8
(1h12m)
[20220708_ISSS_plenary_Ing_AppreciatingSystemsChanges.mp3
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Systems Changes Learning: Recasting and reifying rhythmic shifts for doing, alongside thinking and making (preprint)

In which ways are systems changes different from changes? Extending the deep body of knowledge in the systems sciences, rhythmic shifts serve as a gateway for exploration. In a rigourous coevolving of inquiries into (i) doing (praxis), (ii) thinking (theoria), and (iii) making (theoria), a coherent systems approach is being recast and reified.

An article tracing 4 years of action learning by the Systems Changes Learning Circle has been accepted for publication. A special issue of the Journal of Sustainable Smart Behavior is forthcoming, delayed slightly by a pandemic issue amongst the authors. A preprint version is now posted on the Coevolving Commons, to be eventually updated with the final publication.

The issue editors are to be thanked, especially, for permitting the article to run long. The extra space allows expositions on multiple philosophies of sciences, for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with the breadth of reference materials cited.

Here’s an abstract and a view of the article preprint.


Abstract

In 2022, the Systems Changes Learning Circle is in its fourth year of 10-year journey on “Rethinking Systems Thinking”. In a contextural action learning approach, the Circle has elevated rhythmic shifts as the feature that both resonates with practitioners in the field, and fits with a post-colonial philosophy of science bridging classical Chinese thought with Western professional practices. This multiparadigm inquiry recasts and reifies the activities of doing (praxis), thinking (theoria) and making (poiesis). The facility with this approach is deepened through three levels: (i) educating of attention, orienting novices towards contrasting modes of thought; (ii) learning for co-relating, lending a way for practitioners to critically appreciate their situations, and (iii) learning for articulating, aiding mentors to guide groups productively through mutual learning.… Read more (in a new tab)

Intention or Attention? Humbling Design through Systems Changes Learning | Zaid Khan | ST-ON 2022-05-09

System thinking, starting from graduate studies, can be a continuing (if not lifelong) journey. In parallel to a professional career in strategic communications, Zaid Khan has the distinction having studyied systemic design in the OCADU SFI program (2016-2020), under the supervision of Peter Jones. He became a cofounder of the Systems Changes Learning Circle in 2019, under a premise that our collective journey might take up to 10 years.

For the May 2022 session of Systems Thinking Ontario, Zaid reflected on the overlay of the rhythmic shifts primacy from collaborating in the Circle, following his formal educational activities.

After reviewing the trajectory of his thinking, Zaid invited open conversation.

This video available on Youtube has also been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
May 9
(1h42m)
[20220509_ST-ON IntentionAttentionDesignSystemsChangesLearning Khan.m4v]
(FHD 815kbps 718MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

Audio
May 9
(1h42m)
[20220509_ST-ON IntentionAttentionDesignSystemsChangesLearning Khan.mp3]
(94.6MB)

With some core ideas now having coalesced amongst Systems Changes Learning Circle cofounders, we welcome the systemic design community to explore new directions in mutual development.

The original description for the Systems Thinking Ontario session follows.


Systems Changes Learning (SCL) is a body of work that offers an updated way of thinking about and responding to change. The three premises of SCL dramatically reposition how we look and understand changes: as rhythms over time that might shift, in accord with the natures of the systems involved.… Read more (in a new tab)

Humanism, the Anthropocene, and Enemies of the Systems Approach | David Ing + David L. Hawk | ST-ON 2022-04-11

Many who espouse systems thinking call themselves humanists, placing human beings and human social systems at the forefront of their efforts.  In the early 21st century, the anthropocene was introduced as a new geological epoch, in recognition that the most significant impacts shaping the Earth’s atmosphere comes from human activity. Can human beings share our world more equitably with other living beings, or will our nature lead to a tragic outcomes of our own making?

For the April 2022 session of Systems Thinking Ontario, David Ing reviewed some prereadings for a shared foundational context.  David L. Hawk was then invited to lead a discussion on the Systems Approach and its Enemies.

The conversation amongst participants was recorded, as an open discussion across a variety of perspectives.

This video available on Youtube has also been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
April 11
(1h37m)
[20220411_ST-ON HumanismAnthropoceneEnemiesSystemsApproach Ing_Hawk.m4v]
(HDPlus 726kbps 627MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

Audio
April 11
(1h37m)
[20220411_ST-ON HumanismAnthropoceneEnemiesSystemsApproach Ing_Hawk.mp3]
(92.9MB)

Social systems thinking is part of systems thinking. However, systems thinking could have a stronger appreciation of more than just human systems.

Here is the original Systems Thinking Ontario session description.


Humanism is “most generally, any philosophy concerned to emphasize human welfare and dignity, and either optimistic about the powers of human reason, or at least insistent that we have no alternative but to use it as best we can” (Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy).… Read more (in a new tab)

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