Introduction to key works from the systems literature

shiftN Academy intro sessions

Systems thinking in some form or other is probably as old as humanity, but systems science came of age only after the Second World War. It has been a fascinating intellectual adventure that resulted in a powerful set of ideas. These ideas are shaping the way we address global challenges today.

Sadly, much of what the most prominent systems thinkers wrote in the latter half of the twentieth centure has found only a very limited audience. Arguably, some of these books put significant demands on readers (and readers’ wallets!) too.

At shiftN we want to actively explore this intellectual legacy and make it accessible through focused introductions. We promise that anyone interested in systems ideas and contemporary societal challenges will benefit from these short and accessible introductions.

A typical 3-hour evening session focuses on a single, classic systems book. We discuss key ideas, author’s biography and the book’s position within the broader systems thinking tradition. Over the years we hope to build up a rich library of systems literature, spanning the whole journey from early cybernetics to the latest ideas in systems ecology.

In 2017-2018 we propose four books:

Bela Banathy: Guided Evolution of Society (2000).
Banathy’s key idea was that humanity had reached an evolutionary stage that offered it the potential to determine its own long-term fate. He also explains us how we should go about shaping our own future.

Introduced by Philippe Vandenbroeck

Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch: The Embodied Mind. Cognitive Science and Human Nature (1991).
A pioneering book by a distinguished trio of systems thinkers that explores a conception of mind and of being in the world that goes against the grain of our scientific worldview.

Introduced by Ivo Velitchkov

Luc Hoebeke: Making Work Systems Better (1994).
Hoebeke’s book is an excellent introduction to the ‘soft’, constructivist take on systems ideas. It is a very practical book too, that helps to tackle all kinds of messy organisational challenges.

Introduced by Philippe Vandenbroeck and Luc Hoebeke

Gregory Bateson: Mind and Nature. A Necessary Unity (1979).
In Mind and Nature Bateson constructs a picture of how the world is joined together in its mental aspects. He asks: “How do ideas, information and logic, the classical procedure for making chains of ideas, relate to an outside world of things and creatures, parts and wholes?” It will be interesting to contrast his vision with Varela’s ‘Embodied Mind’.

Introduced by Philippe Vandenbroeck


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