2007/08/09 10:00 Michael C. Jackson, "Critical Systems Thinking and its Contributions to 21st Century Management Practice"

2007/08/09 10:00 Michael C. Jackson, "Critical Systems Thinking and its Contributions to 21st Century Management Practice", ISSS Tokyo 2007

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Mike C. Jackson, Dean, The Business School, University of Hull, UK

Michael C. Jackson

Troubling:  ISSS younger than I am

  • Need to regard the society as young, and we still have a lot to learn

Introduction / agenda

  • Case studies bringing together east and west, and also hard and soft
  • It's valuable to have a distinction between hard and soft, but also

Grid:  development of appplied systems thinking, keeps changing

    Increasing divergence of values -->
    Unitary Pluralist Coercive
Increasing complexity

Stafford Beer and Ralph Stacey, focused on complexity

  • Now trying to deal with softer approaches, e.g. Angela Espinosa

Churchman / Ackoff  / Checkland dealing with diveristy of thinking

Ulrich, dealing with disadvantage in systems, and who's been excluded

Also having to deal with postmodernism

How to handle for best effect

Explanation in systemic terms of metaphors

  • Early, machine metaphor
  • Moving to living systems theory and socio-technical, get organismic and brain aspects
  • Midgely: more emancipatory effects
  • Wide range of metaphors, what if we look through brain or culture or political systems?


  • Functionalist
  • Interpretative
  • Emancipatory
  • Postmodern

Critical systems thinking:  take advantage of rich vein of systems thought, and enhance the systems domain

  • Holistic, dealing with whole systems, as critical
    • Not enough to be holistic, have to sweep in multiple perceptions
  • Critique, in 3 forms:  Across system types, and dealing with emergence at hierarchical systems (Boulding)
    • Can use hierarchy to discuss system (Boulding)
    • Boundary judgements (Churchman, Ulrich, Midgely):  are we involving community?
    • Social scientific: what lens are you using?  Machine lens, organismic lens, culture or political, functionalist or interpretive or postmodern?

CST seeks to be comprehensive and pluralist at the same time

  • Multi-theoretical, multi-methodological, and multi-method
  • Improvement: in efficiency, efficacy, effectiveness, elegance, empowerment, emanicipation, exception, emotion

Case of knowledge management, with CST

  • Work with JAIST COE
  • Knowledge management, and how it can be improved
  • Nonaka and Takeuchi:  KM in west is too much concerned with explicit knowledge
    • Argue that this is because it's based on the machine organization, hierarchical, division of labour, as information processing machines
    • Criticize for this
  • What metaphor do Nonaka and Takeuchi take into account?
    • Organization as an organization, so they're concerned with tacit, as how an organization hangs together
    • Concerned with mental models, tacit, for knowledge creation

Ackoff says:  biological model can have short term success when loyalty is seen as value

  • Japan closely associates with biological system
  • But this model of biological system is no long relevant, and would replace with a social system metaphor of purposes at 3 levels
  • Danger is groupthink

Nonaka with later collaborators are much closer to the social systemic model, than organismic

  • Nonaka and Toyama:  dialectic
  • Working with contradiction, through dialectic

Other metaphors are ignored:

  • Zhu argues that Japanese KM depicts cosy companies, and miss hierarchy and power that prevents spread of alternative views
  • They don't understand what you can get out of a coercive system metaphor or (postmodern) carnival metaphor

CST helps:  Nokaka et al criticize western approach, but don't criticize themselves

  • Can look a practice, question the theory

A second case, more practical study:  social housing sector

  • Have had 3 terms of Labour government, that has invested in public services: health, education and housing
  • Concern about whether we're getting value for money
  • One review:  Gershon review 2004, views savings to improve the public sector, using resources better
  • Social housing is big business, wanted 835M GBP saving
  • Northern Housing Association had been looking at Lean Systems Thinking, from Vanguard, John Seddon, leading to savings
  • Government wanted to look into this, sponsoring projects
    • Tees Valley: maintenance
    • Leeds: renting voids
    • Preston City Council: rent collection
  • Jackson was asked to sit on three committees
  • Evaluated through a CST approach, which gave insight into benefits and problems

Vanguard Lean Systems approach is based on whole systems (customer) perspective, independence of parts, lean production to customer demand, remove muda (waste), use Kaizen (continuous improvement)

  • Vanguard ensures the objective of the system is the objective of the customer:  significant in public sector
  • Tees Valley: repair within time set, and use the internal team -- which has no mention of customer
  • Customer wanted repair done right the first time
  • Waste of 3 kinds:  
    • Around for no apparent reason (e.g. report no one looks at)
    • Information system that needs to be designed out
    • Waste from higher level systems, some okay (e.g. auditing) but other target based (e.g. call request within 10 days, can't order 14 days ahead)
  • Push decision-making to the lowest level, handling demand
  • Results remarkable
    • 46 days down to 4 days, mostly by giving repairers more discretion
    • 240 empty properties, only 118 after study
    • Review of tenants signing up, of 360 cases, only 18% were in debt after change, 43% were in debt before in change
    • All had 6-figure savings

What about those disadvantaged, e.g. Eastern Europeans?

Some internal issues from local offices

  • Vanguard doesn't handle pluralist well
  • It handles some complexity, but not the way VSM does

Conclude: In looking at east and west, see both

  • Lots to gain from mechanistic and organismic
  • Vanguard was mechanistic, but okay with lots of reflection
  • Organismic model takes us a long way
  • This tension comes from the beginning of General Systems Theory
    • A strand from GST about commonality
    • Also Boulding, about getting the right models
    • Boulding: Mechanistic and organismic are okay, but don't capture the emergence direction
  • This is where distinction between hard and soft

CST can help bridge