What is the difference between systems thinking and systems theory? 2018-06-23T09:30:52+00:00

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  • James AllensJames Allens
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    Post count: 15

    What is the difference between systems thinking and systems theory? Are they not the same thing?

    Joss ColchesterJoss Colchester
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    Post count: 27

    I would say that system thinking is more general as it deals with thinking in the abstract while systems theory is more focused on developing specific models for defining how all systems work, the origins of that being General Systems Theory the book by Ludwig Von Bertalanffy

    David IngDavid Ing
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    Post count: 2

    In general use, I would argue that systems thinking tends to related both to (an) art(s) and science(s), whereas systems theory tends to be related to science (with even a broad perspective on science).

    The full etymology of “systems thinking” may be elusive, but a landmark could be the 1969 publication of a paperback book, Systems Thinking: Selected Readings, edited by Fred E. Emery. There’s an outline of chapters of the book from the Systems Sciences Connection Conversations project back in 2007. Some quotes by Fred Emery may be helpful in a deeper appreciation of the idea.

    The 1969 book on systems thinking reflects research conducted at the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations from WWII. The Social Engagement of Social Science: A Tavistock Anthology, frames a period from 1941 to 1989. This publication is available in many universities, and, through an agreement with the publisher, online at the Modern Times Workplace web site.

    Theory tends to be associated with science. Practically all Ph.D. students in science will have been assigned The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as required reading.

    Russell Ackoff would describe science a the “pursuit of truth” (amongst the classical Greek pursuits of ideals of the good (ethics and morality) and aesthetics (beauty and fun).

    Science (and thus theory) is associated with reason and rationality. The systems approach relates to rationality. C. West Churchman explores the possibilities of the systems approach (rationality) in dialectic with politics, morality, religion and aethetics, in the 1979 book The Systems Approach and Its Enemies.

    Systems theory, as a science, would be testable, and thus requires history and data. The art(s) portion of systems thinking does not necessarily require data, and thus may be more helpful in situations where history is not available or not useful

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