Systems thinking, complexity, cybernetics

For those trying to make sense of distinctions between the varieties of communities of interest, @antlerboy reiterates some prior postings about systems thinking, complexity and cybernetics.

Hey @antlerboy tell us why complexity thinking is systems thinking, is cybernetics?

— Mahoo @StayintheDojo (@SystemsNinja) April 21, 2020

… from .

The response is better read as “Bringing together some recent and old threads on #systemsthinking is #complexity is #cybernetics” | Benjamin P Taylor | April 21, 2020 | Systems Community of Inquiry at

For those who like visuals … there’s “The systems and complexity behaviours minefield” slide 1, with "All four ‘behaviour types’: this is systems thinking’ is in the center, …

… and the slide 2 with the tribes wearing badges …

… extracted from Benjamin’s PDF.

The reasoning is unpacked at “Bringing together some recent and old threads on #systemsthinking is #complexity is #cybernetics”.

There’s an implicit question as to whether it’s possible to separate knowledge from the individuals. I defer to C. West Churchman in that “only people know”.

… to conceive of knowledge as a collection of information seems to rob the concept of all of its life. [….] In other words, knowledge resides in the collection. It is how the user reacts to the collection of information that matters. [Churchman 1971, p. 10]

Churchman, C. West. 1971. The Design of Inquiring Systems: Basic Concepts of Systems and Organization . Basic Books.

Thanks, David! Another minefield waded into…
You’re right about the appropriate title - this is just a collation of stuff already thought, really.

I wanted to give a little voiceover to the two ‘quadrants’ models, since they lack that and evidently are easily misunderstood. They are all forms of ‘wrecking synergy (across the systems/complexity/cybernetics field) to stake out territory’.

On the first diagram, each type of person believes/argues that their approach ‘IS’ systems thinking (or complexity or whatever).

  • The naive enthusiasts don’t know any better
  • The popularisers probably do know better, but deny it because they want to seem to be experts
  • The curmudgeons believe only they have properly understood and their identity is of the outcast
  • The gooroos believe only they have properly understood and their identity is of the leader

In the second diagram, the labels in gold are actually the ways to challenge each of the groups to try to pull them back into the centre.

  • You confront the naive enthusiasts with the real tough challenges which means they need to learn more…
  • You confront the popularisers with the real deep robust old thinking so they have to tangle with complexity
  • The curmudgeons need to be brought into practicality with practice that fits context
  • And the gooroos need to be pulled into the ‘swampy lowlands’ of practice where pretending to be perfect is impossible…

Thanks for sharing Benjamin. It’s like a way to humble oneself when the thinking gets a bit out of hand.

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