This article is adapted from a chapter in Barry’s manuscript While Waiting For Homo Systemicus (also available in Food for Thought). He outlines four key elements of the organic systems perspective. Barry argues that only by taking such a perspective and rising to the challenge of its implications will we behave wisely or enable wiser outcomes throughout our organisations. In particular he explores the relationship between power and love in such a quest.
While accepting that there may in fact be no whole systems, only systems within systems within systems, the essential elements of the organic systems perspective are these:
- Human systems – families, teams, organizations, cities, nations, ethnic and religious groups, among them – are both collections of individuals and whole organic entities interacting with their immediate environments.
- To understand human systems, we need to be able to see them both from the inside (their members’ experiences, beliefs and feelings) and from the outside (the form whole systems take as they interact with their immediate environments).
- For the most part our perspective is limited to the inside view. We neither see nor understand the wholes of which we are a part; nor do we recognize how our inside experiences are shaped by the processes of the whole. This system blindness is costly, resulting in needless personal stress, broken relationships, lost opportunities, diminished system effectiveness and, in the extreme, bigotry, oppression, and war.
- The good news is this: Although we do not directly see the whole systems of which we are a part (for this we await the coming of homo systemicus), it is possible for us, as homo sapiens, to understand whole systems, their processes, and their effects on the experiences of system members. And that knowledge alone can help us avoid the destructive consequences of system blindness while creating more sane and healthy human interactions.