Creative Holism: Systems Thinking for Managers -- Michael C. JACKSON, August 3, 2002
46th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS), Shanghai, P.R. China, August 2-6, 2002.
Saturday, August 3, 2002, 9:40 a.m.
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Introduction by Professor WU Jie
Systems thinking can contribute in two ways:
Title of the talk: Creative holism
Structure of the talk:
Nature of the problem situations faced by managers in the 21st century.
The kinds of things we offer, as panaceas (e.g. process re-engineering) are not creative, and not holistic enough.
Benefits of holism.
Using systems ideas in a creative manner.
Creative holism in management.
Big challenges, and what creative holism has to offer.
The nature of problem situations
The main theme of the conference is more complex, and more changeable and diverse
Difficult for decision-makers.
e.g. British higher education system, which the government is dealing with right now.
Universities in UK must fulfill their usual roles of research and teaching, but also asked to serve local employers and communities.
At the same time, compete for resources with primary and secondary schools, and the health service.
At the same time, government has commitment to increasing to 50% the involvement of under-30-year-olds.
Complexity in enterprise management
20 years ago in China, 40 years ago in UK, it was good enough to increase the efficiency of the production process.
Get the most out of people and technology.
Now not sufficient; in a period of knowledge management.
Crucial to productivity to get inside heads.
Need more flexible structures, flatter with less hierarchy.
Need to ensure transformational leadership.
The tasks for managers has changed for a few decades ago.
Too often, however, these problems are not treated holistically or creatively.
Can see this in many partial solutions, e.g. Total Quality Management, popular in Europe and China.
e.g. process management, focused on machinery and not the people.
Approaches not creative enough, e.g. benchmarking, focusing on parts, but doesn't look at the interaction between the parts.
e.g. Balanced Scorecard, to measure other methods, but using the same accounting metrics -- wide set of problems, but looking at the same way, limits creativity.
Given increased complexity, change and creativity, need holistic solutions.
We are given only partial solutions.
What we need to do to tackle these problems, is to adopt systems thinking, holism, and creativity.
Benefits of holism, then benefits of creativity.
We're all here as system sciences, with systems thinking as a method of tackling problems.
What is it about holism that helps us?
1. Transdisciplinary nature of systems thinking.
SGSR founded in 1954, so that scientists in different communities can meeting together.
Used systems thinking to transfer ideas from one field to another.
We have people working in different disciplines, but all think about working together.
e.g. complexity in astronomy and physics, applied to management systems.
2. Systems thinking allows us to deal with the dialectic between structure and process.
These ideas are at the centre of thinking in both western and eastern thinking
Perminades and Heraclitus
Structure --> process and process --> structure, and how it affects change.
e.g. in South Africa, with white proposal and black proposal independent, made progress through dialectical thinking.
3. Holism, to understand actions, and become the basis of critique.
What are the failures, e.g. what are we not including in the system.
As humans, we can't include the whole system
But we can be critical about what we're leaving out.
If we can be critical about what we are including and excluding, then we are becoming theoretically aware.
Trying to combine theoretical awareness, e.g. Marx or Bertalanffy and Wiener, which can be used in practice, and learn from practice how useful they are.
This conference is about managing problems.
4. Holism is capable, in the guise of systems thinking, of facing issues in companies and society.
Faced with complexity and change, this type of systems thinking may be helpful with holism and creativity.
Issue of methodology, and the improvement of systems methodology over the past few decades, in UK and USA, and maybe in China.
The way we use system ideas is now different.
The birth of systems thinking was around World War I.
Focus on systems engineering, systems management.
Useful when had clearly-defined goals, and simple relationships that could be modeled mathematically.
At that time, could take a mechanistic approach, and ignore other factors.
Progress in operational research was used in practical problems.
But not enough to tackle today's problems.
Now, much more able to deal with complexity, as well as subjectivity (different values and beliefs) coming into conflict.
If used methods from operations research, wouldn't rely on the mechanistic analogy, but also organismic approaches (e.g. living systems approach); organizational cybernetics (i.e. from Stafford
From chaos and complexity, are learning how to manage firms as complex adaptive systems.
Can put systems ideas to use in a different way from 20 years ago.
Dealing with subjectivity: societies where we can't take for granted that everyone shares the same aims and objectives.
Emphasis needs to shift from deciding which goal to pursue, towards discussing the objectives to be pursued.
From the world, to the systemic way people understand the world.
Need to lead the debate -- hopefully through consensus.
Soft Systems Thinking -- for accommodation, systems understanding from different perspectives.
John Warfield has been active doing this.
Also Peter Checkland, Russell Ackoff and West Churchman
Using subjective views, getting pluralism and understanding
Treating organizations not as machines, but as cultural artifacts or systems, and as political systems for resources and power.
No longer limited to mechanistic approaches.
Considerable development in systems thinking, and applied systems thinking.
Poses other problems: creative holism presents another approach.
We now have a number of different systems approaches, need to understand which of each should be applied.
Value of each approach.
Beyond that, we need to be able to use these approaches in a pluralistic approach.
No one method will work in every situation.
Have to be able to use these in combination
Could use mechanistic thinking, living thinking systems, political thinking ...
e.g. like doctors looking at problems from many different perspectives.
Argument: creative holism is the kind of approach we want to management problems.
Then can deal with more serious problems.
Conclusion: In thinking about organizations and society, it's not easy to say where the simple problems lie.
Four categories of difficulty:
1. Problems of prediction and control:
Increasing efficiency and productivity is still important.
2. Problems of gaining mutual understanding.
People need to share aspirations, beliefs of what they want to achieve.
C.Y. Chung's book: the balance of efficiency and equality.
Empowerment and emancipation.
Unless we have greater equality, we won't achieve efficiency and control, or mutual understanding -- interconnection.
4. (In the postmodern era), how individuals can get personal satisfaction, to perform for the group.
How do people get meaning, when they don't share a religion or other grand narratives.
e.g. Marx or capitalism, don't believe that they're all the solution.
Still each need to live own lives, and get personal satisfaction.
We can use creative holism to face the challenges of the 21st century.
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