What is Structure? LO25506

From: Richard Karash (Richard@karash.com)
Date: 10/21/00

Replying to LO25499 --

David, I encounter this all the time in teaching systems thinking.

My conclusions... To see structure:
  1. This is not a question of things-in-the-world, but of how you are
seeing. That is, we are looking for a structural observation or structural
  2. A structural explanation always includes a causal connection.

I wrote an article on this, published in The Systems Thinker. See the
article on the web at http://world.std.com/~rkarash/structure/

>From that article:

[After talking about the events/patterns/structure hierarchy...]

"The trouble starts when we ask for examples of structure... You may
approach this as, "OK, what's causing things?" and answer in terms of the
forces and factors responsible. The answers for the traffic jam might be,
"decaying road surface" or "high speed" or "drivers in-attentive," but
these are the same things we would identify as trends and put on
behavior-over-time graphs. You may frown and ask, "What distinction are
you trying to make when you ask about structure?" What distinguishes
"structure" from everything else?

"We might try to help by saying, "Structure is that which channels human
energy; that which affects what happens." I feel this is closer to the
mark because it's getting at the causal connection.

"Or, we might say, "Yes, structure is quite important, but what's really
important are the mental models; these are an even deeper kind of
structure," and new learners work to identify mental models which are held
by the people involved in the system. These call these "internal"

"Finally, we say, "Structure is the network of relationships of things,
not the things themselves; that's why it's harder to see." Learners are
still puzzled.

"I believe the solution is to go back to the iceberg diagram itself --
Since structure is about relationships between things, so a structural
observation must include a causal connection, not just naming the factors,
forces, or elements of the system.

"Instead of thinking of the iceberg in terms of different kinds of things
that exist in the world, think of it as showing different ways of seeing
the world. That is, focus on seeing structures, seeing causal connections,
seeing relationships that explain what's happening."

   -=- Rick

David Wilkinson wrote:

>My question is - What is structure in a system? Is it visible, invisible
>or both? Is it formal or informal or both? What is it?


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