Dr. Özbekhan (1921-2007), who was described as "probably one of the best systems thinker of the 20th century" by his friend Aleco Christakis, was a cyberneticist, philosopher and planner of Turkish origin who was Professor Emeritus of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. During his twenty-two years' tenure there he was Professor of Operations Research and Statistics, then Professor and Chairman of the Social Systems Sciences Department. In 1986 he became Professor of Management. Concurrently with these positions he held the Chairmanship of the Graduate Group in Social Systems Sciences.
Prior to joining the faculty of the Wharton School, Dr. Ozbekhan was cofounder and first director of The Club of Rome, with Aurelio Peccei an Italian Industrialist, and Alexander N. Christakis, a physicist and systems research designer. In 1970 Ozbekhan wrote the original prospectus for The Club of Rome "The Predicament of Mankind."
Earlier, Dr. Ozbekhan had published his famous "futures creation" planning model "Toward a General Theory of Planning", in PERSPECTIVES OF PLANNING 47-155 (OEDC Report, Jantsch, ed. 1968), which was elaborated by Christakis, "A New Policy Science Paradigm," in FUTURES, Dec 1973, at 543.
Systems theory studies the structure and properties of systems in terms of relationships, from which new properties of wholes emerge. It was established as a science by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Anatol Rapoport, Kenneth E. Boulding, William Ross Ashby, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson and others in the 1950's. Systems theory, in its transdisciplinary role, brings together theoretical principles and concepts from ontology, philosophy of science, physics, biology and engineering. Applications are found in numerous fields including geography, sociology, political science, organizational theory, management, psychotherapy and economics amongst others.
The concept of system, though it seems to be intrinsic to human thinking, has been extensively employed and developed over the last few decades, due in a large measure to contributions made by Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901-1972), a Viennese professor of biology. He worked to identify structural, behavioral and developmental features common to particular classes of living organisms. One approach was to look over the empirical universe and pick out certain general phenomena which are found in many different disciplines, and to seek to build up general theoretical models relevant to these phenomena, e.g., growth, homeostasis, evolution. Another approach was to arrange the empirical fields in a hierarchy of complexity of organization of their basic 'individuality' or units of behavior, and to try to develop a level of abstraction appropriate to each. Examples are generalizations on the levels of cells, simple organs, open self-maintaining organisms, small groups of organisms, society and the universe. The latter approach implies a hierarchical "systems of systems" view of the world.
The definition of Social Systems theory must not be confused with another theory known as “reductionism” (Koestler, Smithies, 1969 p. 60). Reductionism is a term introduced by Rene Descartes in the 1600’s which, contrary to the systems theory, offers that all things, no matter how complex they are, operate thanks to very basic units. Though the idea of smaller parts forming a complex organism is shared in both theories, reductionism differs from systems theory in that it tends to minimize the complex by focusing on how simple its parts are. (Descartes, 1637)
Systems theory does the opposite: It gives emphasis to the complexity that exists within the elements of a whole and tries to understand the dynamics that occur among such formative elements (Von Bertalanffy, 1964 p. 62)
It is safe to assume that every formative process seems to follow the same pattern of behavior: Individual parts joining together to make a whole part which may, or may not resemble the elements that built it. Yet, what motivates the individual parts to unite? How do the parts of an object interact? How do the changes within the parts affect the changes within the system? Those questions are what bring us to the analysis of four sociologists: Von Bertalaffy, Banathy, and Laszlo.
Ludwig Von Bertalanffy
Von Bertalanffy saw the world through scientific eyes (Brauckmann, 1999). As a scientist, he had already conceived a series of theories that aimed to show a structure and pattern of formation among different things. In 1930 he offered the “Organismic Systems Theory” (Von Bertalanffy, 1960, p. 156). This theory attempted to explain the processes of life as a phenomenon. He insisted that individuals exist because of a combination of different processes that work together in the formation of the organism. He offered that these processes are systemic, yet dynamic, and complex. To illustrate this idea, Von Bertalanffy compared the organism as a machinery out in the open trying to “maintain equilibrium”. This equilibrium symbolized the individual’s struggles to survive and adapt to an environment, but also the internal struggles to adapt and perform that occur within the systems that compose the individual itself (Von Bertalanffy, 1960, p. 158-159).
The Organismic Systems Theory gave life to a myriad of other theories proposed by Von Bertalanffy to explain the processes of unification. However, it was the General Systems Theory (GST) what seemed to encompass his entire model in a transdisciplinary way. The GST is defined as a “metatheory” that arose from the previous postulates by Bertalanffy. (Braukmann, 1999, p. 2)
In the following three videos Russell Ackoff provides a very understandable introduction to Systems Thinking.
Change of Age started after WWII
Way of thinking changes, recognized by Einstein, "You can't solve the problems created by current pattern of thought using current pattern of thought."
Scientific Method - 3 Step Process called Analysis
Take it apart
Try to understand what the parts do
Assemble the understanding of the parts into an understanding of the whole
Our entire culture is built on analytical thinking
In a university you don't study business you study the parts with the assumption that when you understand the parts you will be able to integrate them into an understanding the whole. This is analytical thinking.
Analysis permeates all of our institutions, corporations, etc.
You run a corporation by dividing it into parts and then you run each part and then attempt to integrate a running of the parts into the running of the whole. It's an analytical process. Organizational structure is a complete reflection of analysis.
All this started to get us into trouble in the 1950s
Ludwig von Bertalanffy - Austrian Biologist wrote General Systems Theory in 1954
It was the concept of a system which broke the camel's back of the previous era.
How and why requires that we understand what a system is and why analysis can't answer critical questions about systems.