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Types of Systems and Models of them BY Russell Ackoff. TYPES OF SYSTEMS based on ability to choose and, therefore, to display purpose. Parts Whole Example. Deterministic No No Clock

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TYPES OF SYSTEMS based on ability to choose and, therefore, to display purpose.

Parts Whole Example

Deterministic No No Clock

Animate No Yes Person

Social Yes Yes Corporation

Ecological Yes No Nature



Animate systems have deterministic systems as their parts.

Social systems have both animate and deterministic systems as their parts.

Ecological systems contain all three types of system as their parts.



Have no purposes of their own but serve purposes of others; e.g. owners of a business with profit.

This is perceived as their function.

Their behavior and properties are determined by their structure, causal laws, and, if they are open systems, their environments.


In the early stages of the Industrial Revolution in the United States

business enterprises were conceptualized as deterministic systems - like the universe.

Their function was to provide the owner (a surrogate for God the creator) with a return on his/her investment.



have purposes of their own; principally survival and growth.

Their parts (e.g., organs) have functions but not purposes.

They are alive: display autopoiesis.                                                               


Animate systems have often been treated (modeled) as deterministic.

According to Roux there is no distinction between living and non-living entities. The animate [is]…developed from the inanimate by the operation of mechanical laws, and is governed by them.

Other biologists who thought the same way include: Reil, Lamarck, Rudolphi, Berzelius, Verworn, and Loeb.


Today it is apparent that essential aspects

of animate systems are not included in

deterministic models of them.

Therefore, they have very limited usefulness in treating problems involving animate systems.


Deterministic systems have not been

modeled as animate with one exception:


the belief that a great part…of the

inanimate kingdom…is endowed with

reason, intelligence,and volition, identical

with that of man.

(Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition, Vol. 2, p. 53.)


About the time of World War I.

business enterprises (companies) became corporations and were reconceptualized as animate systems (organisms).

Their principal objective: was taken to be survival with growth believed to be essential for it.


Business enterprises have often been

modeled as animate (organismic) systems,


Stafford Beer in The Brain of the Firm

and The Heart of the Enterprise.

or deterministically, e.g.,

Forrester (1961 & 1971), Haret Barcelo,

and Carey.


Business enterprises came to be

conceptualized as social systems

beginning about the time of World

War II.

This transformation is still in its

early stages, and has a long way

to go.



have purposes of their own,

have parts that have purposes of their own, and

are usually parts of larger systems that have purposes of their own and contain other purposeful systems.


Social Systems float in a sea of purposes that are often in conflict at each level and between levels.

This is the principal source of complexity in managing a social system.

It is completely ignored when treating a social system as an animate or mechanical system.


Animate (organismic) models of social systems do not take the purposes of the parts into account.

Nevertheless they may be useful in autocratic bureaucracies in which individual members have little or no freedom of choice.

However, since most subordinates today can do their jobs better than their bosses can, such modeling handicaps the manager by reducing the number and kind of alternatives he/she considers.


In a study done for Volvo, requested by its CEO, it was found that employees were generally permitted to use only 23% of what they knew that was relevant to their jobs.

From which he concluded that human resources are the most poorly used of the resources available within organizations.


In organizations in which subordinates generally can do their jobs better than their bosses (as is currently generally the case) their range of relevant choices should be as large as possible;

The organization should be organized to maximize feasible freedom of choice: democratically.



It is only by modeling social systems as social systems that management can be designed so as to maximize the utilization of its subordinates

and to take account of the effects of their behavior on implementation of any policies or decisions.

Furthermore, it is only by such modeling that attention is given to the function of a social system in the larger system of which it is a part.


The societal function of a corporation conceptualized as a social system is

to produce and distribute


Productive labor is the only way of doing both simultaneously.


Therefore, downsizing is an anti-social


Furthermore, as reported in The Wall Street Journal, it usually results in increased costs in a few years.


It is always possible to avoid loss of jobs by thinking:

For example,

Clark Equipment Corporation

General Electric’s Welding Equipment business.


The step yet to be completed in this evolution of the way we conceptualize organizations (in general) and business enterprises (in particular):

We will treat them as that type of social system we call a



The dominant purpose of a corporation conceptualized as a community is to

support and facilitate the developmentof its parts

and all the systems of

which it is a part.

Social responsibility and responsibility to stakeholders should be their dominant concern.


Note that in a community

ownership has no meaning, is irrelevant,


its organization is “lowerarchical.”