So, What is a System?

I’m working backwards. I started this entry on defining change. Then I realized change can’t exist without systems. So, what is a system? I like the following (heavily inspired by Systems Thinking Basics: From Concepts to Causal Loops)

Systems have several essential characteristics:

  1. A system’s parts must all be present for the system to carry out its purpose optimally. If you can take components away from something without affecting its functioning and its relationships, then you have just a collection, not a system. A pile of quarters on the table would be a collection. The company for which you work is a system.
  2. A system’s parts must be arranged in a specific way for the system to carry out its purpose. If the components of a collection can be combined in any random order, then they do not make up a system.
  3. Systems have specific purposes within larger systems. To paraphrase, “It’s systems all the way down.” Your company, your department, your team, you, your various physical systems, and smaller the systems get until you reach the sub-cellular level.
  4. Systems maintain their stability through fluctuations and adjustments. Systems achieve this stability through the interactions, feedback and adjustments that continually circulate among the system parts, and between the system and its environment. If a systems doesn’t achieve stability, it generally doesn’t last long enough to get noticed.
  5. Systems have feedback. Feedback is the transmission and return of information. The most important feature of feedback is that it provides the catalyst for a change in behavior.

A system has feedback within itself. But because all systems are part of larger systems, a system also has feedback between itself and external systems.

Finally, feedback is not necessarily transmitted and returned through the same system component or even through the same system.

What would you add or change?

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *