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3 Systems Concepts In Chapter 2 you saw why it is useflil to know about systems. This chapter picks up that discussion again. In Sections 3.2 to 3.6 we will look at how to define systems and see what is so special about them and what differentiates them from a mere collection of parts. Section 3.8 studies how system behaviour can be described and introduces the important concept of emergent properties of systems. We then briefly look at various classifications of systems in Section 3.9. In this text, our main interest is the control of systems to achieve certain desired goals. This is the topic of the last section. 3.1 Pervasiveness of Systems In the 1950s, with the exception of a few pioneering scientists, the term system was hardly used except in words like systematic. This is rather surprising, since we are constantly surrounded by systems, belong to various systems, and create new systems. The planet Earth we live on is a part of the solar system. Our whole life is spent, shaped, controlled by social systems, like the family, the neighbourhood, the school, our work place, and various interest groups we join, participate in, and drop out of Some of us exploit political systems or are frustrated by them. Life without a telephone system would be difficult to imagine. In high school or university we learn about number systems. Modern management practices would collapse without information systems. We expect our rights to be protected by the legal system. When our digestive system strikes, we suffer. Indeed, the most important part of us, which differentiates us from other animals, is our brain, part of our central nervous system. At first sight, these things seem to have little in common. So, why are they all referred to as systems? The reason is that they are all assemblies of things that are interconnected or stand in clearly defined relationships with each other. They may have evolved to these relationships through natural physical processes, like the solar system or a biological system. These are natural systems. Or they have been created by humans, such as human activity systems, like most social systems, or abstract systems, like number systems or information systems. Figure 3-1 is an excerpt from Webster's 9th New Collegiate Dictionary. It lists more than a dozen different meanings or variations of meanings for the word 'system'. Note that in everyday language it is also used for 'procedures' or as a derogatory term for 'the ruling social order' or 'the establishment'. Our main interest in the term 'system' is as 'an organized assembly of interrela-

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The emphasis in this text is on systemic. and the various confrol stations that regulate the flow of power. the high tension power fransmission grid. or principles usu. intended to explain the arrangement or working of a systematic whole <the Newtonian ~ of mechanics> 3 a : an organized or established procedure <the touch ~ of typing> b : a manner of classifying. Figure 3-1 Excerpt from Webster's 9th New Collegiate Dictionary ted things'.. or schematizing <a taxonomic ~> <the decimal ~> 4 : harmonious arrangement or pattern : ORDER <bring ~ out of confusion Ellen Glasgow> 5 : an organized society or social situation regarded as stultifying: ESTABLISHMENT 2 usu. as well as what the power system does. syn. generate elecfric power and disfribute it to its users. with its fransformers and power lines. and how the planets are linked to the sun and each other by gravitational forces. in the sense of carefully using a rational method or following a well laid-out plan. 'Organized' implies that such systems have been created by humans. fr.page_22 < previous page page_22 next page > Page 22 sys-tem n [LL systemat-. an elecfric power system is viewed as the collection of various types of power stations and their equipment.html [5/28/2009 11:26:39 PM] . Furthermore. fr.e. systema. i. synistanai to combine. fr Gk systemat-. or symbolizing. larger than a series and including all formed during a period or era f: a form of social. it is not the notion of'systematic'. using systems ideas. 3. the local disfribution network.. or 'pertaining to systems'. that primarily concerns us here.%20S.2 Defining Systems Out-there and Inside-us View ofSystems One of the prime sources of confusion when calling an organized assembly of things a system is what could be termed the out-there view of systems in contrast to the inside-us view of systems. economic. When I talk about our solar system I have in mind the sun and its nine planets. i. Similarly.. ideas. except in so far as they may have been affected by human activity. used with the syn see METHOD sys-tem-less.. This excludes natural systems. the rules used to collect the data and their transformation into pieces < previous page page_22 next page > file:///D:/=FIX/=CREATE%20CHMs=/Daellenbach. A computer information system consists of the pieces of data collected. for distributing something or serving a common purpose <a telephone ~> <a heating ~> <a highway ~> <a data processing ~> e : a major division of rocks usu.e. systema. although we will go about any applications of systems concepts in a systematic way.20(Wiley%201994)%200471950947/files/page_22. of which Earth is one. or political organization or practice <the capitalist ~> 2 : an organized set of doctrines.+ histanai to cause to stand more at STAND] (1619) 1 : a regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole <a number ~> : as a (1): a group of interacting bodies under the influence of related forces <a gravitational ~> (2) : an assemblage of substances that is in or tends to equilibrium <a thermodynamic ~> b (1): a group of body organs that together perform one or more vital functions <the digestive ~> (2): the body considered as a functional unit c : a group of related natural objects or forces <a river ~> d : a group of devices or artificial objects or an organization forming a network esp. or viewing things in terms of systems.

The biology student studying the estuary will see it as an ecological system. it exists out there.page_23 < previous page page_23 next page > Page 23 of information. and presenting this information on VDU's or in printed form. and the annual water infiow patterns as part of the system. Systems are recognized as human conceptualizations. Unfortunately. it is not out there. and what the system does. cross-referencing. crossing their path.20(Wiley%201994)%200471950947/files/page_23. retrieving. while the biology student and the engineer each see a different system. Another observer might have included these aspects as integral parts. In each of these examples. I did not list the hydro reservoirs. deliberately choosing what to include and what to exclude. no such agreement can be expected for what things make up a particular electric power system or a computer information system. the grandfather taking his grandchild for a walk along an estuary may see the estuary as a beautifiil place to share the many wonders of nature with his grandchild. the purpose of a particular system. it is viewed as independent of the observer! While most informed people today would agree on the same definition of the solar system. The choice of what to include or exclude will largely depend on what the person viewing something as a system intends to do with this definition. who is an expert in the efficient operation of such systems.e. such as an industrial or business operation. would have included the pricing structure for electricity as part of the system. The grandfather or the jogger will hardly view the estuary as a system.. It is seen as absolute. even systems experts sometimes fall into this trap. Systems as a Human Conceptualization In this text. They do not exist per se. insects. storing. personal to the observer! This is the inside-us view of systems.%20S. she too will < previous page page_23 next page > file:///D:/=FIX/=CREATE%20CHMs=/Daellenbach. while the jogger.. their relationships. i. the system is seen as the physical and abstract things that make up the whole assembly. the storage of this information in computer files. something partially controllable by the power company. manipulating. This even happens if the assembly of components is a human construct or view. The confusing thing is that in everyday language the word is more often than not used in the out-there meaning. For instance. the water catchment areas that feed them.html [5/28/2009 11:26:40 PM] . I guess that one of my colleagues. This is the out-there view of systems. The engineer working for the local catchment authority will also see it as a system. So we see that different people may define the same 'system' in different ways. the programs for processing. where plants.. may be hardly aware of anything more than a few feet away from the path. But when the engineer takes her windsurfer onto the estuary. It is described as if it existed independent of the observer. I made a seemingly arbitrary choice of what I viewed as belonging to that system. it is the inside-us view of systems that is important. The system is now not seen as existing independently of the observer anymore. It is only the human observer that may view something as a system. and finally the computer equipment needed to perform all these activities. and all sorts of aquatic life forms interact with each other and are affected by the tides. in fact. it has become a mental construct. a subsystem of a larger water drainage system under her management.

< previous page page_24 next page > file:///D:/=FIX/=CREATE%20CHMs=/Daellenbach. © 1991 Salvador Dali Museum. conceive are not our personal view of some real assembly of things out there in the real world. oil on canvas (1940) Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire (1940). The reason for this is that the way an individual views a situation is affected by factors highly personal to that individual. but simply as an enjoyable playground. However. Figure 3-2 Salvador Dali's "Slave Market". Petersburg. as analysts. 3.3 Subjectivity of Systems Description So whether or not some thing or entity is viewed as a system depends on the personal interest of the observer.. 18 1/4 x 25 3/8 in. or views of major planned changes to an existing operation. things we plan to realize.20(Wiley%201994)%200471950947/files/page_24.page_24 < previous page page_24 next page > Page 24 not see it as a system. The purpose of studying an organized assembly of things as a system will determine the type of system seen. Collection of The Salvador Dali Museum. Inc.html [5/28/2009 11:26:41 PM] .. oil on canvas. any two people viewing the same situation with the same purpose in mind may well see surprisingly different systems. St.. The point that systems are human conceptualizations is clearly driven home by the fact that the majority of systems we. They are mental conceptualizations of things that do not exist yet. Florida. still to be implemented.%20S.

%20S.. and the third (the humanitarian) as a system to provide employment for the people in the town he lives in. the three co-owners of a firm may each view their firm as a different system: the first (the materialist) views it as a system to increase his wealth. It is important for you to recognize that other people. What we may know or are told about something may affect what we see or observe. What do you see? Now study Figure 3-3 over the page which shows a photograph of the bust of Voltaire by the 18th century French sculpture Houdon. Consider the well-known painting by the famous Spanish painter Salvador Dali. looking at the same thing as a system. your initial perception of the picture might have been quite different. Not only may they attribute a different purpose to the system. This is an important aspect of systems thinking that < previous page page_25 next page > file:///D:/=FIX/=CREATE%20CHMs=/Daellenbach.page_25 < previous page World View of Observer page_25 next page > Page 25 These personal factors are such things as the upbringing. depicting a girl sitting in front of a group of buyers in a slave market. It is reproduced in black and white in Figure 3-2 on the preceding page. System's Definitions Are Subjective For all these reasons. each one is valid for the person making it. may not share your definition. the second (the idealistic artist) as a system to exercise her creative drive. As long as each is logically consistent. It operates like a filter that channels a person's view in a given personal direction and allows her or him to attribute a meaning to what he or she observes that is congruent with his or her Weltanschauung or world view.. Turn back to the Dali painting and observe how the buyers turn into the facial features of the bust of Voltaire. and this is an important 'but'. Hopefiilly. one definition cannot be labelled 'right' or 'valid' and another one 'wrong' or 'invalid'. This German word loosely translates as 'world view'. this will also make them more aware of their own way of looking at the world. and values or beliefs of the individual.20(Wiley%201994)%200471950947/files/page_25. education. This little exercise neatly demonstrates that what we perceive or observe may be strongly infiuenced by what we already know.html [5/28/2009 11:26:42 PM] . The only judgment that may be made is that one may be more effective or defensible in terms of the aim or purpose for building it. So one of the skills all budding management scientists have to leam is to see a situation through somebody else's eyes. they may also include and exclude different things as part of the system. the way you view something as a system is to a large extent 'subjective'. (You may have to go back and forth a number of time to see it!) If I had shown you Voltaire's bust first and given Figure 3-2 its official caption "Slave market and the disappearing bust of Voltaire". cultural and social background. These personal factors are all captured in the concept of Weltanschauung of the individual. practical experience. For example. Ejfect ofPrevious Knowledge Reality is even more diverse and confiising. But.

So. this is all that it is. in other words. It is not an operational concept. wide consensus of interpretations on many things is thus not excluded. Modem scientific knowledge is based on such consensus. systems thinking is not a matter of black-and-white. Or to quote Albert Einstein: 'The only justification for our concepts is that they serve to represent the complex of our experiences. as the two examples below show. less threatening to think in terms of a single unique answer or solution the right answer. It is simpler. L. Is there objectivity? From what you have read so far. However. this discussion deals with the age-old controversy of objective versus subjective.' Figure 3-3 Houdon's Bust of Voltaire (Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum. prejudices. London) < previous page page_26 next page > file:///D:/=FIX/=CREATE%20CHMs=/Daellenbach. you must conclude that I am a firm believer that objectivity. beyond this. but of shades of grey.html [5/28/2009 11:26:43 PM] . is an illusion.page_26 < previous page page_26 next page > Page 26 may be difficult for the novice to accept. a consensus. at least in its traditional meaning of'the expression or interpretation of facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings. they have no legitimacy. Naturally..%20S. more comforting.. But. Our mind can only capture our personal perceptions coherent with our Weltanschauung.20(Wiley%201994)%200471950947/files/page_26. The only operational meaning that objectivity may have is what the systems thinker R. Ackoff [1974] calls 'the social product of the open interaction of a wide variety of individual subjectivities' a sort of consensual subjectivity. independent of the observer's mind'.

the relationships between the components. 3. 'Organized' means that there exist special relationships between the components.20(Wiley%201994)%200471950947/files/page_27. the behaviour or the activities or the transformation process of the system. it exhibits a type of behaviour unique to the system. seen as inviolate for over two centuries. particularly in childhood' as rather naive. break down and must be replaced by postulates of relativity and quantum theory. (2). i. Not only were these laws corroborated by countless experiments and observations. < previous page page_27 next page > file:///D:/=FIX/=CREATE%20CHMs=/Daellenbach.. (5) The system has an outside an environment which provides inputs into the system and receives outputs from the system. (6) The system has been identified by someone as of special interest. its environment.html [5/28/2009 11:26:44 PM] . The behaviour of the system is changed if any component is removed or leaves. (4) Groups of components within the system may by themselves have properties (1).e.page_27 < previous page page_27 next page > Page 27 Consider the interpretation of'what is insanity?' We look at past views of'being possessed by the devil' either with abhorrence or a benign smile. when considering motions with velocities comparable to that of light.%20S. Newton's laws of dynamics have been and still are some of the most successfiil scientific theories of profound theoretical and practical importance ever put forward. Future generations may think of the current view of'deep-seated emotional disturbances due to maladjustment to the social environment. at the beginning of the 20th century Einstein showed that.e. and (3). The crucial ingredients of a system are therefore its components.. or when attempting to analyze the mechanics of atoms and subatomic elements.. as dealt with in industry and much of space science. the outputs to the environment. Yet. This though in no way diminishes the continued importance of Newton's laws for operations with bodies of ordinary size.4 Formal Definition of the Concept 'System' I choose to define a system as follows: (1) A system is an organized assembly of components. Probably the most famous example comes from Physics. A system is not a mere collection of parts that do not interact with each other. No component has an independent effect on the system. and the special interest of the observer. Newton's laws. the inputs from the environment. (2) The system does something. (3) Each component contributes towards the behaviour of the system and is affected by being in the system. i. but they also proved their practical value in mechanics the building and working of all machinery on which modern life is based. they may form subsystems..

The system behaviour consists usually of a transformation of inputs into outputs. An important part of a system description is to choose where this boundary should be set. This separation between the system and its environment means that each system has a boundary. System components do not have to be physical things. < previous page page_28 next page > file:///D:/=FIX/=CREATE%20CHMs=/Daellenbach.g. like cumulative costs or levels of achievement. which when exposed to light transform water and carbon dioxide (inputs) into carbohydrates and oxygen (outputs). e. numerical variables that measure things. What a system does its activity is the aspect of prime interest to the observer or analyst. 3. Any decisions or decision rules imposed on the system by somebody who has some control over how some aspects of the system function or operate are controllable inputs. these outputs are not assumed to affect any aspects of the environment in any significant way. such as setting quality standards or output restrictions. while a system does or at least is capable of doing things under specific conditions. If they were. Although the system provides outputs to the environment. Finally.20(Wiley%201994)%200471950947/files/page_28. Similarly. then they should properly be included in the system itself.page_28 < previous page page_28 next page > Page 28 i. such as a pile of rocks. it is not a chaotic aggregate. The system environment is all those aspects that affect the system behaviour and are not in turn significantly affected by it.. In fact. to achieve a maximum output. the person who views the organized assembly of components as a system has a purpose for doing so.%20S. or they impose constraints on the behaviour of the system. a chaotic aggregate does not do anything. such as resources.e. Examples of such 'activity' are living plants. the examples used are somewhat coarse. such as information. For the sake of brevity.html [5/28/2009 11:26:45 PM] . The purpose for studying a system determines which aspects of the system the person wants to observe and study in detail. and relationships between physical or abstract things.. This could be simply to gain a better understanding of the system behaviour or it could be to control the system behaviour in certain ways. They can be abstract things. or a manufacturing firm which transforms raw materials (inputs) into finished products for sale to customers (outputs). rather than part of the system. like raw materials and funds or information. Doing so in a system will affect its behaviour. They provide inputs to the system or receive outputs from the system.5 Some Examples of Systems Descriptions Let's look at some examples to clarify and elaborate on these concepts. Various measures of performance or other indicators about the behaviour of the system give rise to abstract outputs of interest to the observer. They are viewed as being outside the system. Inputs are things the system needs to function but does not produce for itself. most systems of interest in decision making may often consist of abstract things and their relationships alone. Adding a few parts to a chaotic aggregate or removing some does not change its nature. Chapters 4 and 5 each consider real-life situations with all their intricacies...

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