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What is systems theory?

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

  1. 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.

Its aspiration is to identify the various identifiable and recognizable elements and trends of the systems, that is, of any clearly defined entity, whose parts have interrelations and interdependencies, and whose sum is greater than the sum of their parts.

This means that in order to have a system, we must be able to identify the parts that compose it and among them there must be such a relationship that by modifying one the others are also modified, generating predictable behavior patterns.

On the other hand, every system has a relationship with its environment , which is adjusted to a greater or lesser extent and with respect to which it must always be able to 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, the General Systems Theory, considered as a metatheory , aspires to preserve its overall, global perspective of the systems, without proposing anything too specific. For example, it allows differentiating between the types of systems based on their essential characteristics, but does not worry about what type of concrete objects make up that system.

  1. Author of Systems Theory

Systems Theory is not the first attempt of the human being to find a general approach to real objects, but arises in the twentieth century as an attempt 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.

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

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

  1. Principles of Systems Theory

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

According to this theory, every system consists of:

  • Inputs, inputs or inputs , which are those processes that incorporate information, energy or matter into the system, coming from outside.
  • Outputs, products or outputs , which are obtained through the operation of the system and usually 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, which in turn constitutes a system within another system and thus to infinity.

From this last factor, three types of systems are recognized:

  • Open systems . Those who share information freely 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, but without being closed.
  1. Systemic approach

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 relationship between them, as well as their inputs and outputs of information regarding the world outside the system.

These types of approaches are based on the distinction between the general and the particular, and thus propose two fundamental readings:

  • Structural . Consistent in the identification of 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 . Consistent in the evaluation of the operation of the system and the relevance of its elements, evaluating aspects such as performance, entropy and effectiveness.
  1. Systems theory in administration

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

To begin with, the American Mary Parker Follet used this theory to refute numerous perspectives of the 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 a very important conceptual tool, as processes of matter transformation or profitability can be described according to its principles .

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