Systems Thinking and Mental Models

Systems thinking for the enterprise: new and emerging perspectives

Key Points

The key points in this article include addressing the term enterprise. The author says that in the context of the paper, it refers to a unit comprising of interdependent resources. These include people, funding, technology, organizations, and processes. However, the resources interrelate with one another. The resources harmonize functions, distribute information and apportion funding. They also interact with the environment to realize the set goals (Rebovich 2006).

He states that environmental factors cannot be influenced. Another point the author draws to the attention of the reader is the shift from traditional systems engineering (TSE) to enterprise systems engineering (ESE). He states that the defining assumption under TSE is that all pertinent factors are widely under the control of an engineering organization. It is also assumed under TSE that pertinent factors may be significantly comprehended and explained by the system engineer.

On the other hand, under ESE some factors may be accounted for using system engineers while others are not. Since enterprises entail different groups, supporters, and operational societies, there is enhanced stress on operating transversely and linking organizational cultures, aims, and socio-economic differences. ESE is hence an intricate system. The author then suggests with emphasis on ESE that since stakeholders are trailing in the capacity to manage diverse or multiple enterprise elements, system engineering should focus more on the capacity to control factors involved in enterprises. Rebovich generally sought to identify how challenges faced by ESE can be resolved amicably.

He hence undertakes to acquaint the audience with how ESE develops and works. The author states that the ESE concept involves the development of improved levels of differentiation and integration simultaneously. He says that differentiation entails divergences among units that are clearly similar. On the other hand, integration entails the resemblances among units that are clearly different. The augmentation of differentiation and integration results in innovation.

Rebovich consequently addresses variation as the source of innovation and adaptation in organizations. It is about choosing the appropriate mix between assortment and homogeny. The accessible acts to mold the behavior of a compound system typically function not by merely accommodating assortments but also function through the actual increase and decrease in the assortment of drivers in a population. These may include internet standards and product designs. The author then explores interaction, which is the shaping of the enterprise. It makes or modifies the roles played by agents and the pattern of interaction. Scenarios of interest emerge or disappear due to the interaction of the drivers with one another as well as with the organizational plans and standards.

Another point that Rebovich has emphasized is the selection, which is the integration and exploitation of value. Selection supports adaptation by intensifying the success at the product or strategy level. Selecting a product creates a completely new product devoid of the need to establish or know exactly the reasons for success. In order to demonstrate the ESE perspective to the audience, Rebovich uses the example of the Military Net Centricity (C2 enterprise system).

The system is typically used by the military hence includes governments, commercial entities, and other organizations. The idea behind the system is to encourage innovation through interrelation among the funded programs in the record. Those who move the organization towards net centricity are rewarded. The reward criterion is dependent on the stage of net centricity the organization is in at that time. It involves funding the reward programs, organizational goals, and development of new products, as well as the mobilization of resources and rewarding individuals or groups.

Arguments

Rebovich argues that new systems thinking perspectives are emerging when influential ideas from contemporary technology thinkers intersect with the wide IT discipline and the philosophy of sophisticated acclimatized systems (specifically those arising from progressive biology and social systems). He argues that traditional systems engineering (TSE) cannot survive due to rapid changes that occur in the business spheres and society.

These changes are stimulated particularly by the sophisticated modern information technology. He views TSE as one that has been overtaken by the changes. Consequently, Rebovich argues that there is a need for system engineers to be at par with technology in order to develop systems that will reflect the reality of the modern world. He asserts that system engineers are losing the capacity to control many business and society elements. Apparently, there is an increase in the prospective to influence others.

The problem addressed

The article authored by George Rebovich junior aims to explore systems thinking in the emerging and novel perspectives of businesses. The article addresses schools of thought that are contemporarily increasing due to the demand for effective systems development. It is in view of advanced technology that he states that enterprise systems are complex. Consequently, system developers are finding it difficult to keep pace with the increasing technological demands. The author sought to answer and explore measures in an enterprise that will probably present the future desired by stakeholders.

What the author knows about the problem

Rebovich seems to possess significant knowledge about systems thinking. He articulates the issues with high precision. He takes the reader through the issues addressed by first giving the background of systems thinking. He then creates an image of how technology changes have led to complexity in systems that enables the reader to view the challenges involved in using TSE. By integrating many aspects and players involved, he is able to convince the reader that indeed system engineers may be overwhelmed by many elements involved in business spheres, society, and the environment.

Author’s Proposal

Rebovich proposes that a fraction of the new systems thinking (ESE) demands the substitution of the perception that precise engineering results or objectives can always be guaranteed with one that aims at shaping, improving, or increasing the value of engineering results. This can be achieved via considerate interventions in the rising numbers of situations, which are not fully controllable.

Author’s findings

Rebovich found that IT is a major contributor to the complex situations that most engineering finds themselves during their efforts to resolve problems, which are inherently brought by IT advancement. In other technologies such as biotechnology, IT has dramatically shaped and fueled changes that would not have emerged in the discipline were it not for IT advancement. These advancements have decreased the costs of information storage.

In fact, the information revolution has reduced barriers to interactions among individuals, enterprises, companies, states, and processes that were previously contained in space or time. Although that has been achieved, the rate of IT advancement suggests that future events are becoming increasingly hard to predict and control. This means that the world and systems engineering will become more complex.

Author’s conclusion

Rebovich concludes that although enterprise systems engineering is appropriate for solving complex challenges, they are gradually lacking the capacity to influence multiple enterprise elements. This is in consideration of the fact that there is increasing potential to influence others in businesses and societies. Systems engineering hence should be more about having the capacity to control given that the environment for operations becomes more complex.

Mental Models: An Interdisciplinary Synthesis of Theory and Methods

Key Points

Jones, Ross, Lynam, Perez, and Leitch (2011) state that attaining some insights into mental models, human cognition, as well as how they affect stakeholders is paramount as they result in actions, preferences, and behaviors that influence the interactions among players. The understanding of such concepts is of great significance in the discipline of natural resource management (NRM). The approaches modeled to deal with environmental challenges are mainly orchestrated by human choices the same way the challenges arise from human dealings and choices.

There has always been an attempt to comprehend behavior by highlighting the stakeholders’ mind-set, inclination, and ideals. In this regard, the authors argue that mental models must be greatly dynamic in order to adjust to the continually shifting situations and progress over time via learning.

Arguments

The view of an individual regarding the environment around them exists within the mind of an individual. They are therefore not directly available for examination or gauging according to the authors. The assertion is driven by the fact that in psychology and cognitive science, it is accepted that individuals can develop and utilize mental models that allow them to interact with the world (Jones, Ross, Lynam, Perez and Leitch 2011).

These models are used to reason and make judgments. Typically, they are the foundation of individual behaviors. Identifying and handling the plurality of the stakeholder’s perceptions, principles and objectives is a fundamental aspect of efficient natural resources management (NRM). By understanding such internal constructs, how complex or dynamic they are, and how they progressively modify with time allow the development of mechanisms used to enhance efficient utilization and management of natural resources. The realization of the potential depends on the development and testing of sufficient means and methods to extract the inner representations of the world efficiently.

Jones, Ross, Lynam, Perez, and Leitch (2011) argue that mental models are typically partial representations of reality. They are incoherent depictions of reality as they are context-dependent. They change with regard to the circumstance in which they are utilized.

The problem addressed

Jones, Ross, Lynam, Perez, and Leitch (2011) sought to examine the utility and pertinence of mental models in view of NRM. The authors show that mental models are individual but inner perceptions of the outer reality that individuals utilize during the interaction with the environment around them including other people. The authors address the subject from an interdisciplinary blending of the existing knowledge that has added to the development of the practical and theoretical functioning of the mental model subject.

In order to develop the argument and substantiate their position, the authors’ claim that mental representations stored in the long-term memory has significance in the current interpretation of what is expected by individuals. The individuals utilize the long-term experience to evaluate the current situation. Typically, long-term memory is often utilized to analyze a situation and make predictions based on past events than using short-term memory. The authors maintain that long-term memory is an outcome of ‘how cultural understanding is arranged in the mind’. These shared experiences are used by sets of individuals to identify and connect with the surroundings.

What the author knows about the problem

The authors recognize that extracting a mental model is challenging to any discipline interested in utilizing the model as a tool for gaining an understanding of the individuals’ inner view of the world. The authors acknowledge that mental models have not been fully studied and cognitive mapping emerged from spatial cognitive researches. They also recognize that a study on mental models indicates that the constructs are characteristically similar representations. However, the authors have identified an inconsistency as to the hypothetical location of mental models in the mind.

Authors’ Proposal

The authors suggest that practitioners in the NRM sphere should take interest in the idea of mental models particularly the concept of shared mental models. The knowledge will enable practitioners to develop ways of encouraging individuals with dissimilar views to work together. This will only be possible if the practitioners identify and support a common knowledge among stakeholders.

This stems from the fact that the development of mental models has expanded from a personal to a collective focus. This means that there is increasing appreciation of the study from diverse fields that a cognitive social constituent exists at the individual point. Considering that organizations are influenced by groups of people as opposed to an individual, it is imperative to expand the research from an individual point to group and finally to the global level.

After evaluating mental models, they propose that further research should be conducted to evaluate the comparative value of existing methods. As a result, novel methods will be developed to suit the NRM field. They propose that research from other fields including risk communication and systems study must be integrated as they offer substantiated literature.

Authors’ findings

Jones, Ross, Lynam, Perez, and Leitch (2011) found that one perspective that does not pursue the representation of a mental model elicitation, as a system of ideas and relations is what they refer to as Consensus Analysis (CA). They assert that the approach emerged from cognitive anthropology. The approach is devised to examine the sharing of cultural knowledge among given sets of people. The CA literature entails the portions of data collection that every person possesses in the mind as representations. These representations are described as networks of robustly interlinked cognition elements that signify the general concepts kept in memory.

Authors’ conclusion

The authors conclude that the utilization of the mental model subject to attain knowledge on how individuals perceive and consequently are persuaded to take action towards the environment they live in is a striking proposition for natural resource management practitioners. The mental model concept and cognitive perspective are beyond the stakeholders’ priorities, objectives, and principles related to a given resource in providing a detailed image regarding the perception of natural resource systems functioning by stakeholders.

The image elaborates on the elements that the stakeholders regard paramount to a particular matter as well as how such elements are prearranged cognitively and the dynamic relationships between them. Mental models give some knowledge regarding how individuals understand a system, how they trust the system reacts to interventions, and how the stakeholders may arbitrate.

The authors assert that there is mounting proof that individuals actually use mental models to contemplate and predict occurrences in their environment. In the NRM field, systems of focus are compounded and dynamic. They function at a variety of temporal and spatial levels. They conclude that extraction techniques require the capability to integrate the intricacy and have the ability to stand for the people’s thinking plainly and reasonably.

The extraction techniques applicable in mental models in view of NRM require furnishing the wide range of individual variety and intricacy of players’ associations intrinsic to the field. The players in NRM context are inherently diverse. They originate from a variety of socio-cultural settings. An appropriate mental model perspective in NRM should hence pursue to develop communication and working together among groups through utilization of mental models as a tool for shared knowledge. This guarantees elicitation of mental models in a complete method that surpasses mental models of touchable and biophysical processes to integrate the individuals’ comprehension of governance and inter-player relationships.

Towards a System of Systems Concepts

Key Points

Russell Ackoff indicates that the concept of the system plays a critical role in contemporary science. The author states that in systems, the perspective of challenges is essential for organizations. The systems approach according to the author on holistic systems as opposed to taking pars separately. The author asserts that regardless of the significance of the systems, an integrated or inclusive set of such models does not exist. The author describes systems as a set of interrelated elements. The author offers intrinsic definitions and meanings of words associated with systems thinking.

Arguments

Ackoff argues that a system should be either variety escalating or variety diminishing. In this regard, a set of concepts which when combined neither increases nor decreases the variety of the outcomes would mostly encompass identical concept elements. In that view, it would mean that only one concept or element could act at a time. If that appears not to be the case, then it would mean that the action by a variety of concepts or elements is equal to the action by one only (Ackoff 1971).

The problem addressed

Russell Ackoff authored this journal article. The authors seek to explore the concern that despite the wide range of literature regarding systems, the concepts and terminologies used to talk about the same are not organized into a system. The author attempted to initiate the organization of terminologies and concepts used in systems into a system. The author gives specific consideration of the types of systems that generate utmost interest to management scientists in organizations.

What the author knows about the problem

The article was published in 1971. Irrespective of the development of many terminologies and concepts descriptions, the author appears to have been ahead of time. The author had been well versed with the concept of systems. Other researchers have consequently followed his steps when conducting systems thinking aspects. It is observable in the contemporary studies that stakeholders seek to develop a necessary background in terms of concepts and terminologies for clarity in the application.

Author’s Proposal

The author proposes that when conducting research on systems thinking, it is imperative for the researcher to possess substantial knowledge of terminologies and concepts that exist in the field. This translates to the possession of sufficient knowledge in the field and the elimination of misinterpretations.

Author’s findings

The author found the relationship between systems and elements involved. The author states that some systems can demonstrate a higher variety and level of behavior than can any of the elements. By combining two or more objective-seeking elements, a multi-objective seeking and consequently a purposive system can be constructed. The elements can also be augmented to create a purposeful system. In this regard, the author found that the function(s) of a system in the production of the results that describe its objectives. This means that a system can display two formational and different kinds of behavior in similar or diverse environments.

At the same time, the different behaviors can produce similar kinds of outcomes. This means that the systems irrespective of the behaviors have the function of producing the outcome. Upon exploring the aspect of systems, the author found a definition of organization different from what previously existed in the sphere of the system. The author says that an organization is a focused system that entails at least two purposeful elements that possess a shared principle in which the system entails a functional division of labor. The functionality of the system in this regard has different subsets, which can respond to one another’s behavior via observation or communication. One of the subsets must possess a system-control function (Ackoff 1971).

Author’s conclusion

Ackoff concludes that the definition of concepts in systems is typically treated as a necessary nuisance that should be concluded as first and inconsiderate as possible. The outcomes of the lack of inclination to give specific definitions are studies carried out similar to surgical operations conducted with sharp blunt instruments. The chances of success are drastically lowered. Similarly, definitions in system concepts become blunt in application hence demand regular review and replacement. The author subsequently states that research can rarely be conducted using a single concept.

There is always a need for a matched set of concepts and hypotheses to achieve different results. Comparing diverse research studies demands comparing the sets of ideas utilized in them. In systems science, this should not be an exception. In this regard, the author of the article asserts that when conducting research on systems thinking, the research should be conducted systematically by having sufficient knowledge of the terms and concepts used.

References

Ackoff, R 1971, ‘Towards a system of systems concepts’, Management Science, vol. 17. no. 11, pp. 661-671.

Jones, N, Ross, H, Lynam, T, Perez P & Leitch, A 2011, ‘Mental models: an interdisciplinary synthesis theory and methods’, Ecology and Society, vol. 16. no.1, pp. 46-59.

Rebovich, G 2006, ‘Systems thinking for the enterprise: new and emerging perspectives’, System of Systems Engineering, vol. 1. no. 2, pp. 197-202.