Many seek an education in Communications this day and age -- it is a field that has now, more than ever, become essential to the American economy and to society at large. While it may seem conceptually straightforward, there are many different types and methods of communication currently utilized by professionals. A “system” is a model describing a collection or process of things/variables possessing certain characteristics and relationships. Systems theory is the trans-disciplinary study of the abstract organization of phenomena, independent of their substance, type, or spatial or temporal scale of existence. It investigates both the principles common to all complex entities, and the models, which can be used to describe them (Principia Cybernetic). Systems theory was developed as a byproduct of studies in, originally, biology and engineering. One key founder of the systems movement was Ludwig von Bertalanffy, a theoretical biologist who was interested in the study of “living systems” within his own academic realm. At the most basic level, systems are characterized by input-throughput-output processes (Farace, Monge & Russell, 1977). In system processes, the “input” is what is entered into a system of, for example, information, in its operation to achieve an “output” result. The “throughput” is a transformational process that transitions information gathered to what it will eventually amount to. The output, then, expectedly, is the final result. There are two kinds of processes that characterize input-throughput-output operations. The first one is the process of “exchange”. At this stage, all transformed materials and information are required to undergo an exchange with an environment outside the system. The second type of process is “feedback”. Feedback is the process of partially returning output back into the system. Systems can have internal or external feedback loops that can be active or inactive. Two types of feedback are crucial to system functioning. Negative feedback with gains less than one, which reduce oscillations, and tend to stabilize system variable, and positive feedback, which serves to change system-functioning through growth and development. From the interaction of these components and processes emerge system properties. There are four relevant, outright key properties: Holism, equifinality, negative entropy, and requisite variety. “Holism” emphasizes that the state of a system must be assessed in its entirety and cannot be assessed through its independent member-parts. Dividing a system into its separate parts is considered destructive to that system, and single parts within a system should not be prioritized. Thus, holistic views define atomism to ultimately be a threat to the health of a system. Holism focuses on alleviating problems within a system by emphasizing the system as the sum of its whole and understanding that member parts ultimately aggregate to create that whole (Wikipedia). “Equifinality” proposes that a system can reach the same final state from differing initial conditions and by a variety of paths (Katz & Kahn, 1978, p. 30). This is to suggest that “laws of averages” have a greater influence on the outcomes of events than Holism would imply -- a greater faith is placed in consistency. “Negative entropy” is the tendency of a systems’ output to decline when the inputs have remained the same. “Requisite variety” is the final system property, which deals with the relationship between a system and its environment. This property suggests that the internal workings of the system must be as diverse and complicated as the environment in which it is embedded. It allows for organizations and or groups to deal with information/problems in the environment when they occur. Throughout the history and evolution of system theory and its properties, many important academic figures have played a role in further developing and contributing to these four models. Karl Weick, for...
Cited: Miller, Katherine. "Chapter 4/ Systems Approaches." Organizational Communication: Approaches and Processes. 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1999. 59-77. Print.
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