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With characteristic clarity, Ackoff attacks a key issue of the Systems Thinking movement in his recent Research Note in this journal (Ackoff, 2006). After decades of illuminating studies and after hundreds of intellectually brilliant contributions, Systems Thinking still faces an uphill battle in organizations.
What Ackoff in effect calls for is Systems Thinking with a more energetic, self-marketing and easy-to-use interface with organizations and the general public. We believe the initiative we have launched as 'Systems Intelligence' (Saarinen and Hamalainen, 2004; Hamalainen and Saarinen, 2006) presents a way forward for the Systems Thinking movement and to the direction Ackoff identifies.
KNOWING MORE THAN YOU KNOW YOU KNOW
Is there something wrong with System Thinking? As far as it goes, no. But the human systems skills, systems sensitivities and pragmatic systems capabilities go far beyond what Systems Thinking seems to have acknowledged. Human systems comprehension and action capabilities are an abundantly rich endowment.
Consider the case of the preverbal systems life of an infant. As pointed out by researchers and as reinforced by everyday experience, infants have remarkable abilities to interpret the surroundings and read intentions in human behaviour. As Jerome Bruner, a key researcher once put it, the infant cognitive endowment is 'surprisingly abstract' and 'systematic'. 'Much of early infant action takes place in constrained, familiar situations and shows a surprisingly high degree of order and 'systematicity' (Bruner, 1983). (1)
In its objectivism and scientific representationism the Systems Thinking movement seems to have bypassed that rich human endowment. The result is an overemphasis of objectival and even positivistic epistemologies when approaching the humans/systems relationship. But the human systems endowment reaches further than that, we wish to emphasize.
TRUTH INFORMERS VERSUS IMPROVEMENT MAKERS
A Systems Thinker goes into an organization in order to teach about the truth. The organization is an ignorant party to be informed, a captive in Plato's cave. The Systems Thinker, the messenger of truth, is the Subject that delivers the vital content to the Organization, the Object. The content message evolves around something called 'a System', as identified and described in terms of scientifically valid representations. Ability to operate with a highly specialized discourse of those representations is the key question of authority for the Systems Thinker and will decide his credentials. Similarly, the systems skills he wishes the target …