Systems theory is an interdisciplinary study of systems, as they relate to each other within a greater context. The key idea of systems theory, no matter what field it is being applied to, is the entire is greater than the sum of its parts. It is used to explain why some things work, and why other things do not. It also can be applied to marketing, management, production, and business strategy. Systems theory is often considered a “paradigm” for studying systems because it differs from current popular scientific models of systems, in that there is no assumption that there is a single type of system that is run by a “self-contained” process or self-contained ability.
The main argument for systems theory is in its identification of four general systems with unique adaptive properties. These are systems of mind, systems of organizations, systems of physical systems of communication. In order for a system to be described as operating effectively, it needs to satisfy all four systems; but only when they are all tightly coupled and operating in unison, and in particular with each other, can any environment provide a good environment for any system to thrive and grow.
For example, social work systems theory maintains that individuals are much more motivated to change their own lives for the betterment of others when they find themselves in a social work environment that supports their personal growth model. As social work experts note, humans adapt much better to environments that foster their individual growth patterns or life models. For example, if you are a social worker who works on preventing child sexual abuse, it would be much more difficult to bring in an expert to discuss the nuances of child sexual abuse than it would be to allow an individual therapist to talk about emotional abuse and its negative effects on an individual’s psyche and psychological well-being.
But how does this fit in with systems theory? In systems theory, there are three general systems with unique adaptive properties; these are people, information, and systems. People are the mass-dependent element in all systems, information is the variable and highly integrated components, and systems are the total human environment. People are mass-dependent because they have an innate need to be accepted, valued, and helped by everyone else in the world. Information is the variable element in people systems, as individuals are able to acquire knowledge and information through various means. Systems theory recognizes that humans need both information and social relationships to thrive, and it also realizes that both are powerful organizing forces, which are needed to organize and grow both themselves and the environment they live in.
The crux of systems theory is its identification of four core explanatory perspectives with unique predictive properties, namely human interaction, information, systems, and motivation. According to systems theory, human behavior is the primary force governing all the other processes in the environment. Humans have an innate urge to interact with others, information is the mass-dependent variable, and systems are the integrated system of interactions among the different systems. Humans are highly systems beings, and this is why they excel in all the different aspects of science, mathematics, engineering, and other branches of the social sciences.
Systems theory predicts that any given system will behave according to the norms of a particular system, a system that has been proven stable according to the systems theory model. Therefore, if we observe a system that satisfies some of the predictions of systems theory (i.e., the stability of a market), then we can reasonably assume that this system is most likely to continue on in the desired manner, following the same set of norms that have been proven through many years of experiment and observation. Furthermore, this system can also be considered a minimal complex system that perfectly matches the predictions of a multitude of optimization processes. Finally, any system that completely obeys the overall laws of physics, which is the overall system of the universe, also satisfies the overall system theory model of the universe as a whole. Any system that does not obey the laws of physics is said to be “chaotic”. Therefore, in essence, the overall system theory of the universe and the entire universe is a description of a chaotic system, which is a system that completely differs from the systems theory model.
Nowadays, systems theory has been applied not only in industrial and business practices but also in the design of complex and intricate systems, and in the field of sustainable systems. Therefore, systems engineering is not just a subject that one studies for the sake of understanding, but it is now becoming an important part of the development process of most new buildings and other complex structures. A number of interesting and innovative approaches to systems engineering have been developed in the last few years. Many environmental consulting firms are now offering an eco-holistic approach to building green buildings, which integrates the principles of traditional systems theory with the conservation of the environment.
In short, the principles of systems theory can be applied both in the engineering and scientific domains. A lot of progress has however still to be made regarding the consistency of the calculations. The accuracy of such approximations remains questionable at best. Nonetheless, as new systems are developed and better methods of calculations are devised, the accuracy of the approximations will gradually improve, making systems theory a more accurate and useful tool in the future.