We can describe the world as a collection of interacting systems and analyse it by observing its traits and interactions.
Humans naturally observe things and understand the world without necessarily knowing its inner workings. The systemic approach views the world as a system of interacting subsystems.
The Black-Box View
A system can be anything from a simple amoeba to the world financial system. We define the system boundary based on its inbound and outbound interactions. The human body is a system which takes in water, food and produces waste and heat. The human consciousness is a more complex system. It takes in information and produces a myriad of things from art to science.
The ‘black box’ approach allows us to refer to entities without knowing their inner secrets. We can refer to a toaster or a radio without having to know how either work. The mind could not function if it had to know everything about a peanut before appreciating peanut butter.
Data systems are similar. A developer must know the inner workings of methods and properties. But we can use data in the real world without this knowledge.
One can thus refer to ‘things’ by their name without knowing their precise workings. We cite the ‘social security system’ without knowing its inner workings. The system will continue to output healthcare as long as we input funding and resources. Likewise, we have come to depend on the water distribution system without appreciating matters of ecology.
In business systems analysis, it may be sufficient for some to know that ‘the production system’ produces widgets. The analyst may want to delve into the detail and understand its inner workings.
Different levels of analysis
High-level view of the ‘energy system’
Detailed view of the system:
Our dependency on systems
We can observe the system from any perspective. We can analyse its internal workings or its interactions with other systems.
Society is dependent on systems for the provision of water, electricity, health, food and information.
People depend on the Social Security System and now know too little themselves. They often go to see the doctor for simple ailments.
We shape ourselves to reflect what society expects of us and we evolve to what it allows us to become. What does this mean for the future of humankind?
The systemic approach allows us to analyse ‘the world’ as a set of multiple overlapping interacting systems. Our analysis depends on our point of view and the objectives of the analysis.
The analysis of the world by the World Bank may observe large blocks of social function. The sole trader may be analysing the workings of his business. The developer has detailed lines of code, the surgeon the inner workings of the human body.
The subject and degree of analysis depend on the position and role of the observer. A ‘casual’ observer or an actor of change will view the system differently.