What is Systems Theory?
It is known as Systems Theory or General Systems Theory to the study of systems in general, from an interdisciplinary perspective, that is, covering different disciplines.
It aspires to identify the various identifiable and recognizable elements and trends of the systems, that is, of any clearly defined entity, whose parts have interrelationships and interdependencies. Its sum is larger than the sum of its pieces.
This means that to have a system, we must be able to identify the parts that make it up. There must be such a relationship that, by modifying one, the others are modified, generating predictable behavior patterns.
On the other hand, every system has a relationship with its environment. It adjusts to a greater or lesser extent and concerning which it must always be differentiated. These considerations, as will be seen, can be applied to biology, medicine, sociology, business administration, and many other fields of human knowledge.
However, General Systems Theory, considered a meta-theory, aspires to preserve its general, global perspective of systems, without proposing anything too specific. For example, it allows differentiating between the systems based on their essential characteristics, but it does not care about what type of concrete 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 it emerged in the 20th century to give new life to the systemic 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.
This theory emerged within biology, a discipline in which it still plays a fundamental role, when in 1950, the Austrian biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy first exposed its foundations, development, and applications.
Key to this formulation were the studies of Charles Darwin and the father of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener. The support of more complex and later theories started from the basic notion of systems, such as Chaos Theory (1980) or more recent developments that attempt to apply General Systems Theory to human groups and the social sciences.
Principles of Systems Theory
According to this theory, every system is made up of:
- Inputs, supplies, or inputs are those processes that incorporate information, energy, or matter into the system, coming from outside.
- Outputs, products, or outputs are obtained through the operation of the system and generally leave the system to the external environment.
- Transformers, processors or throughput, system mechanisms 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, constitutes a system within another system and thus to infinity.
From 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.
The systemic approach is the approach of 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 existing relationship between them, as well as their inputs and outputs information regarding the world outside the system.
These approaches are based on the distinction between the general and the particular, and thus propose two fundamental readings:
- Structural. Consisting of identifying the interior of the system, detailing its components, its structure, and the functions between them. It is a kind of radiography of the systems.
- Integral. Consisting of the evaluation of the functioning of the system and the pertinence of its elements, evaluating aspects such as performance, entropy, and effectiveness.
Systems theory in administration
As in other areas of knowledge, the administration benefited from incorporating the General Systems Theory, especially in recent times.
To begin with, the American Mary Parker Follet used this theory to refute numerous perspectives on classical administration. 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 transforming matter or obtaining profitability can be described according to its principles.