Systematics in Systems Thinking LO25456

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 10/13/00

Dear Organlearners,

Don Dwiggins <> writes:

>This looks to me like the beginnings of something that
>could be quite useful to a LO, or even someone in any
>organization trying to tackle a particular problem: a
>taxonomy of organizational problem-solving tools.


>Would anyone with experience in these or other tools like
>to add to this, or perhaps disagree and offer a different
>taxonomy? (It would also be useful to add references to
>the model names.) I can imagine this turning into something
>that would be worth maintaining on the LO web site.

Greetings Dwig,

The step which you have taken from Gavin's practice made me very excited,
but also deeply worried. I will explain both feelings.

I have changed the subject line, hoping to give more perspective rather
than smothering the flow of ideas in the direction which you were
stepping. I certainly want you, Gavin and others to explore your line of
thinking naturally in the original topic. As for the topic to which I have
changed your topic, it is one with plenty of adventures and plenty of
dangers. Its like exploring an unknown desert, jungle or ocean. Never do
it alone, never go to deep at once and get out while it is still safe. It
is here direct where experiences weighs far more than stores of
information because it concerns mental evolution. So if you want to leave
this contribution now, do it rather than getting frustrated.

Systematics is a special way of thinking employed in many subjects like
chemistry, geology, geography, botany, zoology, language and philosophy.
Perhaps you will wonder why I have not mentioned other subjects like
economics, politics, law and even systems thinking? Well, systematics is
operating even there, but to be able to discern it, we need to know what
is so special about systematics.

Systematics is a deliberate organisation of the theoretical entities
employed in a subject. This "organisation of subject entities" follows a
path of evolution just as the subject's theoretical entities themselves
may follow a path of evolution or even the very objects of practice for
which these theoretical entities have been created.

I have studied the systematics of many subjects and came under the
impression that the systematics of a subject has three phases in its
evolution. I will formulate a few cursory notes for each phase. These
notes are not final, but have to be subjected to to scientific enquiry.
One serious problem which I have encountered in these studies is that far
more seems to be said between the lines (tacit knowledge) than in the
lines (formal knowledge). Thus it was neither easy nor always possible for
me to discern between my own observation (first stage of scientific
method) and own specualtion (second stage). Another serious problem is
that I had to work pesistently in three levels -- systematics, theoretical
entities and practice objects. I often became confused in such complexity.
If what now appears to be too complex, consider it as confusion and please
accept my apology.

The first phase is classification. It consists of fixing a label (name)
* which will distinguish an entity from all others and
* arranging these labels in a practical (manageable) manner.
The second phase is taxonomy which includes classification rather
than excluding it. It consists of refining the fixing of labels
* by making sure that the same entity is not given different labels
  and labels are not used for entities too poorly described while
* arranging the refined labels according to some overseeing theory
  which calls for new labels for higher levels of complexity.
The third phase is categorisation which includes classification and
taxonomy. It consists of stabalising the refining of labels
* such that the label's entity may interact creatively with the subject's
  primary practice for which the entities originally were conceived.
* the one-to-many-mapping of the entities in their organisation can
  be conceived clearly.

The more complex a subject, the slower its rate of systematisation. Thus,
for some subjects, although their systematics may have begun a century or
more ago, they may still be at the classification stage. Furthermore,
trying to pressurise the rate to go faster have invariably detrimental
effects to the systematization from which the systematics take a long time
to recover.

The systematics of two subjects has the rather curious feature which we
may perhaps call "double loop systematics". The one subject is "systems
thinking", i.e. systematics in system thinking is applying systems
thinking to systems thinking -- a self-referential process. The other
subject is philosophy whenever its central feature is consider to be
"systematisation of thoughts".

As for the subject systems thinking itself, I think that the work of Flood
and Jackson clearly depicts the classification stage in its evolution. The
notes by Gavin indicates the same. But what excited me about Dwig's
comments, is his intuitive need for the more refined qualities of the
taxonomical stage. This need is occasionaly expressed among systems
thinkers working at the forefront. Thus I expect that sooner rather than
later a flurry of "taxonomical studies" (they will probably be called
something different) will occur in systems thinking.

A curious thing for me is how Dr Demming deliberately avoided systematics
(but not systematical thinking) in his own systems thinking. I think it is
because of his great sensitivity to how rigid structures in organisations
cause immense organisational problems. Thus he avoided the stagnation
which is generally possible in any self-referential system and
specifically in philosophy and systems thinking.

By the way, Dwig, you yourself are deeply involved with computer software.
Have you already become aware of the systematics of software? At what
phase of the evolution of software systematics would you reckon the
computer industry is at present? But let me go on with systematics

The systematics of every subject has some extraordinary benefits.

Firstly, by getting the overall picture, scholars of that subject become
aware of the incompleteness of their knowledge and the collective
information available on that subject. Thus they begin to speculate about
missing links, to search for what was once considered obvious and to step
into unknown black holes. More than once these scholars became aware how
they have blinded themselves by their own Mental Models. In biology
(botany, zoology and microbiology) new ranges of species were often
discovered at a stage when it was thought that all species had been traced
and mapped in a thoroughly surveyed region. Sometimes former species
became lumped into a "variable species" while sometimes a seemingly
"homogenous species" became splitted into several distinguishable

Secondly, by connecting different entities of that subject in search of an
overall pattern, novel discoveries emerged which often had a tremendous
impact on the subject. For example, in chemistry it was once believed that
by knowing the structure of each compound participating in a reaction, the
outcome of a reaction could be predicted perfectly. But eventually in
especially organic chemistry it dawned on chemists that the outcome
(compounds produced) was too complex to be predicted on molecular
structure alone. They expected a one-to-one-mapping, but found a
one-to-many-mapping. Hence they came to the insight that on the molecular
level not only structure ("being") is needed to predict the outcome, but
also reaction-mechanism ("becoming"). This caused a dramatic
reorganisation of thinking about chemical reactions.

Thirdly, the evolutionary nature of the subject and the need for more
creativity by the scholars became gradually exposed. Thus a general
interest among scholars of many subjects began to emerge into inherently
rich topics such as evolution, creativity and complexity. What was once
the idiosyncracies of a few philosophers have become of vital interest to
scholars in many subjects. Think, for example, of the concept of
wholeness. Furthermore, what was once considered as a mere popular science
for the masses suddenly became of vital interest to scholars in many
subjects too. Think, for example, of the concept ecology.

But the systematics of every subject also has some grave draw backs
(immergences) which we cannot close our eyes to, especially if we want to
reap the benefits (emergences). Perhaps you fellow learners will become
aware how important the LO is to scholars in a subject if they want to
avoid these immergences when endeavouring for deeper systematics.

Firstly, when the autopoietic nature (spontaneous organisation) of the
subjects systematics became turned into a forced scheme (non-spontaneous
organisation) so as to serve opportunism, the systematics aborted
(immerged destructively). Consequently some time had to elapse for
feelings to become buried before the systematics began to manifest itself
again, but now always in a different way. (See Dollo's law for biological
evolution). For myself the best example here is the phlogiston concept
which could have developed much more, but which had to be buried before
emerging as the concept entropy. (See the Primer on Entropy).

Secondly, the systematics may lock the subject into a local fitness peak
(labile equilibrium) from which it cannot escape once that peak has served
its purpose (dance of free energy upon equilibrium value dies away). It is
often viewed as a paradigm fixation because of too much vested interests.
But I think it is far more complex than that. It is rather a confusion on
the tacit level of knowledge (which makes its descerning so difficult) of
rheostasis with homeostasis and vice versa. Anyway, what happens is that
the systematics of the subject grinds to halt which seemingly nothing is
able to set it changing again. Changes away from the norm do occur, but
typical of any equilbrium (stable or labile), they are minor, reversible
and ineffective. It is then when working without systematics in that
subject often brings healing rather than trying to heal the systematics of
that subject -- a kind of "martial law" for the mind.


I myself had experienced this locking in on a local fitness peak vividly
in my own research on the systematics of educational imperatives
(objectives, goals, mission). Some thirty years ago at school I began
experimenting with learning objectives. I was friendly told by the head
master and the district inspector that it was much better to train the
pupils by rote learning the answers to some questions which may be
expected in the examination. I was doing something which no other teacher
in that schools district even knew about and that was not a good thing to
do. (In a sense -- not the training sense -- they were right, but it took
me fifteen years to know what they knew tacitly, but could not

In the next phase of my journey as senior lecturer in the further training
of teachers, I not only used learning objectives before any of my
colleaques, but also began to experiment with different taxonomies (like
Bloom et al and Piaget). My colleagues thought that I was to much of a
loose head to use these learning objectives soundly. Anyway, I became
worried that the learning objectives did not help my students to learn,
although they explicated to the students exactly what they had to learn.
It was like giving workers tools with instructions to use, but they (as it
seemed to me in those times) did not want to use these tools nor read the
instructions. So I began to develop objectives intended to make the
students more creative in the subject rather than merely mastering merely
its contents. My idea was to develop a taxonomy from all these "creativity
optimised" objectives.

In the following phase of my journey at the university where I now still
work, I began to organise this taxonomy with outcomes which were rather
strange even to me. But I kept pushing on, trying to validate the taxonomy
empirically. However, my worry increased. I was becoming intuitively sure
that something was very wrong. The better I became in formulating learning
imperatives and the better the mastery of some of my students, the more I
became aware that it (as it seemed) means nothing to the other students.
They did not want to use it. They just wanted the minimum of study
material so as to pass the examination by way of rote learning -- and far
too many of them became drop outs.

Eventually, together with some other major discovery during 1982-83, it
dawned on me what was wrong. All these objectives and goals were concerned
with the FORM (mechanics) of creativity in the subject. In fact, that was
true of the whole discipline of "outcome/ competency/criterion based
education". I began to perceive how it was doing to education what dogma
did to the church and ideology to the state. It was the letter which
killed the spirit. I became aware with shame how much I neglected what may
be called the CONTENT (dynamics) of creativity in the subject.

One day, while "lecturing" on the role of "free energy" in a chemical
reaction, I had this curious sensation of a "deeper me" stepping out of
myself, observing the "shallower me" guiding the students in the intricate
role which "free energy" plays in chemistry. While the "shallower me" was
explaining the dance of "free energy" in chemistry, the "deeper me" was
exploring the dance of "free energy" in our minds, the students and mine.
I wonder what the students thought that day. I felt self as if I was in a
trance from which I did not want to get out. In fact, the students had to
remind me to get out of it when they began to make all sorts of noises. I
and perhaps they too were surprised at the intensity needed to break the
spell. As I got out of my mezmiration, I became vividly aware that what
seemed to be a lack of interest and discipline was actually a lack of
spiritual free energy.

>From that day I still made use of explicit objectives concerning FORM as
before, but I focused far more on implicit objectives concerning CONTENT.
Hence the improved performance which I was seeking for such a long time,
was beginning to manifest itself. But with that came a whole bunch of
problems which I previously was not aware of. Many of these problems were
actually typical of that experienced by a LO, something which I only
realised when Peter Senge's Fifth Discipline finally got on the shelve.


Thirdly, the systematics may lead to what I perhaps can call "systemism".
This is a rather complex "---ism", but yet with some distinguishing
features. Much of the systematics become "desk" work rather than staying
close to "bench-field" work. This is where the NLP saying "The map is not
the territory" has merit in the sense of "Do not replace the territory by
the map". The originally alive entities (labeled in any of the three
phases) become dead entities as the labels become "artifically alive". The
implict dynamics between the entities become replaced by complicated
algorithms between the labels. The swopping for recipes become more
important than the actual preparing and eating of the food. The artists
begin to criticise each others works of art rather than creating new works
of art. An instant solution (pill) becomes matched for each problem
symptom) manifested, thus leading to a proliferation of problems (patient
getting more pills and more ill). What was virtual becomes actual and what
was actual becomes virtual by setting up a grand reversible scheme.
Outwardly everything seems to be proper, but inside hurt and death

There are a number of "asystemismic" ways to prevent this "systemism"
taking control. I will not describe these "asystemismic" procedures, but
will end with a comment on something curious about all of them. Whenever
one of these "asystemismic" procedures is used, whether to prevent
"systemism" or purely for their intelectual value, those who are
controlled by "systemism" object vehemently against the use an
"asystemismic" procedure. "Step on the devil's tail and it will scream."

These people controlled by "systemism" are not fools -- they are still
dear thinking humans who become intuitively aware that this "asystemismic"
procedure will upset the "systematics of the system" to a point beyond
their control. In other words, they become aware that they will have to
give up the "systemism" and other rote mental behaviour so as to become
authentic system thinkers once again. I feel very sorry for them because
they fear authenticity, something which they are in great need off. That
fear began to develop when the systematics began to control their mind as
a result of the intimidation of complexity rather than their minds
controlling the systematics.

As for myself, this very behaviour of vehement objections has helped me to
become aware of "asystemismic" procedures which I probably would not have
identified otherwise.

Dear fellow learner, I do not know how it is with students in your
country. I would love to know if "systemism" occurs in your country
and if you are also aware of it in one way of another. Locally it is fast
becoming a grave issue. A number of colleagues who care dearly for
the learning of students have told me in dialogues that they are
becoming increasingly aware how students in increasing numbers
(as these colleaques express themselves):
* want the "system to take control" of their systems thinking,
* cherish a "mental death wish",
* beg for their "minds to be bashed by a feather",
* cannot wait to "sell the system for money" after graduation
* become deft match makers between artificial problems and
  solutions, but incapable of even identifying a simple natural

Perhaps not all these expressions are articulations of "systemism" and
its ill effects, but I suspect they are. However, I am becoming
increasingly aware of the growing need among colleagues coming from
different subjects for a LO-dialogue so as to change this grave course our
students are following. One piece of advice which I give them always
perplex them: "Do not break the control of the system on their minds by
trying to control their minds with something else because external mind
control is the actual culprit." They have an intuitive appreciation for
self-control, but they have little, if any, knowledge how this can be

What is worse, they often manifest what D Stove once identified as
"fallibalism" -- a system which failed seriously to control itself
believing that it cannot regain control of itself, a point of no-return.
This is where I firmly believe the LO will begin to play a crucial role to
break this control which fallibalism have on the Personal Mastery of

Well, so much for my contemplations on "Systematics in Systems Thinking".
I tried to think systematically and to bring in some systematics, but also
tried to avoid pushing systematics, getting locked onto a local fitness
peak and let "systemism" take control. I am fully aware that my own
efforts are in vain. We will have to function as a LO so as to continue
with our evolution in Systems Thinking.

I know it sounds strange, but I perceive that at a certain stage the
further evolution of Systems Thinking will require a LO (of which Systems
Thinking is one of its five disciplines). This is in the scope of the Law
of Requisite Complexity. This may generate a new range of problems. To
avoid these problems, we will have to fathom the actual nature of this
cybernectic loop. I am not saying it by way of imagination, by way of
experience. How?

Our Bible study group is now functioning as a LO for some four years --
with only me aware of it. I do not want the other members to become aware
of it too so as to observe the tacit (implicit) rather than formal
(explicit) functioning of our dear little LO. A number of times I have
observed how this evolution of Systems Thinking in our LO almost aborted.
But since our Teacher cares for us, He is guiding us step by step to learn
how to circumvent these almost bewildering problems. We are becoming aware
how the "humble" and "gentile" are great medicine for further spiritual
evolution and not merely evolution in Systems Thinking.

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.