Systems Thinking | Entropy and Homeostasis

September 8, 2008


[ KEY WORDS & PHRASES: overall system | component parts | context of relationships | the part in relation to the whole | distance | time | organizational communication ]

  • A unique approach to problem solving in that it views certain “problems” as parts of an overall system, rather than focusing on individual outcomes and contributing to further development of the undesired element or problem.
  • It is a framework that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation.
  • The only way to fully understand why a problem or element occurs and persists is to understand the part in relation to the whole.
  • It illustrates that events are separated by distance and time and that small catalytic events can cause large changes in complex systems.
  • Acknowledging that an improvement in one area of a system can adversely affect another area of the system, it promotes organizational communication at all levels in order to avoid the silo effect.


[ KEY WORDS & PHRASES:  outputs decline when inputs remain the same | dispersion of energy in an observable system | direct function of time | fails to evolve over time | change in outputs over time| state of static equilibrium | primacy to the interrelationships | dynamic interrelationships create new properties ]

  • It is a tendency for systems’ outputs to decline when the inputs have remained the same.
  • Measures changes in the type and dispersion of energy within an observable system.
  • Entropy is a direct function of time
  • Without changes in inputs (creativity, modernism, or market observance) the system is considered closed, and entropy becomes inevitable.
  • When we observe a component of the system losing energy, we are observing a displacement of the energy’s location. The energy that was once localized to a specific entity, group, business or person will eventually disperse into the surrounding system.
  • When an organization fails to consider that they are part of a larger system, and must evolve over time, the scope of the system and the complexity greatly affect the length of time in which entropy typically occurs.
  • Regarding social organizations: once they reach a state of static equilibrium, entropy begins to occur.
  • The degradation of the system unit of entire system is then only a function of time.
  • This unintended process occurs until the system is thrown out of its static state with new inputs or process changes, or the system fails.
  • Once system thinkers can identify a way for the component or process to evolve, the risk of entropy is lessened. After new actions are taken or inputs are changed, the process to avoid system decline due to entropy begins again. Once growth has stopped, the decline of the system is inevitable.
  • In systems science, entropy is measured by change in outputs over time.
  • The systems approach gives primacy to the interrelationships, not to the elements of the system
  • It is from these dynamic interrelationships that new properties of the system emerge.


[ KEY WORDS & PHRASES: maintains its structure | maintain the internal balances | Oppose change | maintain stability | survive | ultrastable | to endure is not enough | adapt to modifications of the environment to evolve ]

  • An open system that maintains its structure and functions by means of a multiplicity of dynamic equilibriums rigorously controlled by interdependent regulation mechanisms.
  • Reacts to change in the environment, or to random disturbance, through modifications of equal size and opposite direction to those that created the disturbance to maintain the internal balances.
  • Oppose change with every means at their disposal.
  • If the system does not succeed in reestablishing its equilibriums, it enters into another mode of behavior with constraints often more severe than the previous ones that can lead to the destruction of the system if the disturbances persist.
  • Complex systems must have homeostasis to maintain stability and to survive.
  • Homeostatic systems are ultrastable; everything in their internal, structural, and functional organization contributes to the maintenance of the same organization.
  • For a complex system, to endure is not enough; it must adapt itself to modifications of the environment and it must evolve otherwise outside forces will soon disorganize and destroy it.
  • The paradoxical situation is how can a stable organization whose goal is to maintain itself and endure be able to change and evolve?

One comment

  1. If you’re interested in the whole energy versus entropy thing, especially entropy versus information, there are two books that you might find useful. You may even have read these already, but just in case:

    One is “The human Use of Human Beings” by Norbert Weiner. It’s old and a bit dense, but quite profound. Weiner was the father of cybernetics, which was a discipline even before computers.

    The other book is Grammatical Man by Jeremy Campbell. It’s a much, much more accessible read, although towards the middle it really starts dragging. The first few chapters are pretty exciting stuff about applying information theory to other areas of research.

    Good presentation yesterday!

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