Systems Theory – Concept, principles, author and approach

We explain what systems theory is, who was its author and what are its principles. Also, systems theory in administration.

electronic systems theory
Systems theory allows analysis from electronics to ecology.

What is systems theory?

It is known as Systems Theory or General Systems Theory when study of systems in general, from an interdisciplinary perspective, that is, it covers different disciplines.

Its aspiration is to identify the various identifiable and recognizable elements and trends of systems, that is, of any clearly defined entity, whose parts are interrelated and interdependent, and whose sum is greater than the sum of its parts.

This means that To have a system, we must be able to identify the parts that compose it and between them there must be a relationship such that modifying one also modifies the others, generating predictable behavior patterns.

Secondly, every system has a relationship with its environment, to which it adjusts to a greater or lesser extent and with respect to which it must always be able to be differentiated. Such considerations, as will be seen, can be applied to biology, medicine, sociology, business administration, and many other fields of human knowledge.

However, the General Theory of Systems, considered as a metatheory, aspires to preserve its general, global perspective of the systems, without proposing anything too specific. For example, it allows you to differentiate between types of systems based on their essential characteristics, but does not care about what type of specific objects make up that system.

Author of Systems Theory

Systems Theory is not the first attempt by human beings to find a general approach to real objects, but rather arises in the twentieth century as an attempt to breathe new life into the systems approach to reality.

Its objective was to overcome some of the fundamental dichotomies or oppositions of classical philosophy, such as materialism versus vitalism, reductionism versus perspectivism, or mechanism versus teleology.

In fact, this theory arose within biology, a discipline in which it still plays a fundamental role, when in 1950 the Austrian biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy first explained its foundations, development and applications.

In this formulation the studies of Charles Darwin and the father of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener, were key. It was the support of more complex and later theories that started from the basic notion of systems, such as Chaos Theory (1980) or more recent developments that try to apply the General Theory of Systems to human groups and the social sciences.

Principles of Systems Theory

systems theory animal ecology
Living beings are systems that share information and matter with the environment.

According to this theory, every system is made up of:

  • Inputs, inputs or inputs. What are those processes that incorporate information, energy or matter into the system, coming from the outside.
  • Outputs, products or outputs. That they are obtained through the operation of the system and that generally leave the system to the external environment.
  • Transformers, processors or throughput. Mechanisms of the system that produce changes or convert inputs into outputs.
  • Feedback. Those cases in which the system converts its outputs into inputs.
  • Environment. Everything that surrounds the system and exists outside it, which in turn constitutes a system within another system and so on to infinity.

Based on this last factor, three types of systems are recognized:

  • Open systems. Those who freely share information with their environment.
  • Closed systems. Those who do not share information of any kind with their environment. They are always ideal systems.
  • Semi-open or semi-closed systems. Those who share as little information as possible with their environment, although without being closed.

Systemic approach

The systemic approach is the approach to an object, situation or matter under the rules of a system, that is, maintaining a systems perspective, to determine the elements that compose it and the relationship between them, as well as their inputs and outputs of information regarding the world outside the system.

This type of approach is based on the distinction between the general and the particular, and thus propose two fundamental readings:

  • Structural. Consisting of the identification of the interior of the system, detailing its components, its structure and the functions between them. It is a kind of X-ray of the systems.
  • Integral. Consisting of evaluating the functioning of the system and the relevance of its elements, evaluating aspects such as performance, entropy and effectiveness.

Systems Theory in Management

As in other areas of knowledge, the administration benefited from the incorporation of the General Theory of Systems, especially in recent times.

For starters, the American Mary Parker Follet used this theory to refute numerous views of classical management.. Since then, the understanding of companies and organizations as describable systems has not ceased.

In the post-industrial world, systems theory has become an extremely important conceptual tool, as the processes of transformation of the material or of obtaining profitability can be described according to its principles.