The Grammar of Systems


  • Patrick Hoverstadt


This presentation looks at the arguments for and the utility of going back to basic systems principles and why and where these can have an advantage over using the more established and widely used methodologies.

We argue that as the discipline of systems has evolved it has gone through a very natural progression from ways of thinking, to more formalised principles, to methodologies, to methodisation and that in this evolution away from principles something essential has been lost and the principles themselves have largely been lost. We set down a catalogue and categorisation of 33 systems principles and relate those to on the one hand to what it means to think like a systems thinker and on the other to the established methodologies.

There are three arguments we make for why it is important to be able to understand and work at the level of principles.

We than go on to show the use of the principles on particular problematic situations and in building methodology.

Finally we argue that looking at these 33 principles as a body of thought, they form a very clear, coherent and simple picture of the discipline. Together they talk about how, when and why it is that systems remain stable and change at the same time, or when and how they don’t, how and why they collapse into new forms or disintegrate, and they talk about our process of knowing and the limitations of our knowing.