Archives for February 2015

A Systems Approach to Everything

From Bob Giles:

I’ve taught systems ecology for 25 years and worked with graduate students on systems projects for 35 years.

In his preface to Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World, John D. Stermans writes, ”Effective decision making and learning in a world of growing dynamic complexity requires us to become systems thinkers to expand the boundaries of our mental models and develop tools to understand how the structure of complex systems creates their behavior.”

The argument seems to be that given the growing complexity of modern life, “A Systems Approach to Everything” might have value.Standback_diagram2

A systems approach has the following dozen ways to offer help in solving complex problems.

  1. It provides a few standard words for a common language for problem-solvers.
  2. The few words provide complete coverage of categories and thus organization; there is room for everything.
  3. Its mental and linguistic use leads to computer use and powerful computer-aided solutions.
  4. It often uses computer models, systems themselves, usually to simulate conditions or to select optimum conditions.
  5. It has been tested by many over time and found strong and useful (though there are detractors).
  6. It is useful for design when objectives are specified.
  7. It can be used for small or large problems because systems are seen as subsystems, often as modules.
  8. Its power is in feedback (if there are clear objectives) resulting in improvements or safe stops.
  9. It uses crafted amounts of input, “fixing” them in amount and quality with feedback.
  10. It includes feedforward, using best estimates about the future to optimize current decisions.
  11. It uses the efficient set of “structures, dynamics, and relations” in analyses and designs of systems having only context, objectives, inputs, processes, feedback, and feedforward.
  12. Its users see most things as potential systems, isomorphic, thus offering efficiencies and reduced duplication or re-invention.


Robert H. Giles, Jr. is a Virginia Tech Professor Emeritus with a vision for a rural land management system.

This post originally appeared on Handshake 2.0.