The manager's guide to systems practice: making sense of complex problems

Frank Stowell, Christine Welch

Research output: Book/ReportBook


In designing this text, we have endeavoured to give our readers an overview of the whole ‘family’ of Systems approaches. The basic building blocks of Systems thinking (emergence, hierarchy, communication and control) are common to a range of different ways of conceiving situations and problems. We distinguish, for arguments sake, between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ approaches. The former accepts an assumption that the problem domain can be clearly defined, and that solutions can be found by applying suitable tools of analysis. The latter, on the other hand, is useful in messy and/or fluid situations in which it is difficult, or impossible, to give a definitive description of the problem to be addressed from the outset. We make the reader aware that Systems ideas have developed over time, incorporating influences from a number of different fields. For instance, we explain how some of the founding Systems thinkers worked in biology recognising the interconnectedness of nature. We describe how many key Systems ideas owe their origins to observation of living organisms pointing out that a number of writers on Systems have used analogy with the structures and processes inherent in living things within their approaches to modelling. We describe how other influences arose from studies in mathematics, physics or engineering as well as philosophy. It is one of the strengths of our field that we draw upon concepts from diverse sources, including fundamental areas of knowledge that have been studied for decades. We attempt to show Systems as a meta-discipline reflecting and benefiting from the complementary nature of human knowing. We begin to explore these influences in Chapters 4 and 5 of the text and in later chapters, especially Chapter 6, we go on to examine philosophical principles underpinning Systems ideas in greater depth.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationChichester
Number of pages266
ISBN (Print)9781118345634
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • systems theory
  • systems practice
  • systemic thinking
  • problem solving
  • problem structuring
  • complex problems


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