Systems Theory/Holism

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Holistic View[edit | edit source]

A holistic view of a system encompasses the complete, entire view of that system. 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 on the system as a whole and understanding that member parts ultimately aggregate to create that whole.

Currently[edit | edit source]

Today, many industries are integrating holistic practices into their management and operations. U.S. western medical practitioners as well as corporate leaders are becoming aware of the dangers of treating humans or complex corporations as entities made up of isolated, unrelated parts. Understanding the larger system and how individual parts contribute to that system is key. Leaders must grasp the paradigm that the “whole is more than the sum of its parts”. Understanding a complex system entails understanding that the whole can take on a behavior all its own. Understanding this independent behavior is key in holism. Powerful, effective decisions can be made once a holistic view of a system is acquired. Poor, inappropriate decisions can be derived when a limited view is acquired by assessing separate parts without regarding how those parts contribute to the whole. Management practices emphasizing holism seek to eliminate the risk of these poor decisions.

The Goal[edit | edit source]

The goal of increasing holistic awareness allows leaders to create and implement successful management policies and is highlighted by the International Standards Organization for quality management. The ISO 9001 standard defines improved quality management in which acquiring complete, complex knowledge of an organization is essential in implementing effective management practices. Operations and structures within an organization must be enveloped into the full, complete system context. Pooling these critical definitions together must be done so that a sophisticated and complete, essential perspective of an organization's behavior is acquired. Implementing holistic practices within an organization improves the chances of bringing that system to a stable state. Decisions concerning only one isolated function within the system are never constructed using holistic management practices. Thus, unknown outcomes caused by an underestimation of thorough system behavior are eliminated. Without holistic principles, an entire system’s function can be threatened and ultimately the individual constituting parts can be put into peril.

Places that use Holism[edit | edit source]

Holistic practices are critical within the IT industry as data networks and intelligent complete systems are designed and built. Viewing independent components of a communications network or intelligent system as stand-alone entities ultimately impacts the overall quality of that system. In networking, care is taken to view a LAN, MANET or WAN as an entire entity. Small iterative changes to parts of a network are not being considered in isolation such that the downstream or upstream impacts aren't anticipated. Seeing a data network as a whole living system increases the chances for success of a stable, reliable system. In building IT intelligent systems, comprised of interacting smaller software and hardware modules, retaining a systems view is necessary so that the complete product can be troubleshot and debugged successfully. Myopic views focusing only on a single subsystem, where the entire system performance is not considered, can create an unpredictable and unreliable final product. If a holistic view is retained by analysts building or maintaining IT systems, the chance for success of that IT system is more realistic. As the analysts' understanding of the entire system increases, he/she is more capable of initiating complex changes such that the global health of the system is protected.

A Final Example[edit | edit source]

A final illustration of how holism is an immanent and essential theory is the current adaptation of our world to its new global economy. It is imperative that we understand how our global world operates and how we all participate within that entity. Gaining a global economy has been facilitated through readily available international travel and instant, personal communication. As international parties intermix, the world will grow into a very sophisticated and complex system. Retaining a concise and objective perspective of our world and understanding its complexity is critical. Powerful internal influences will begin to impact our global system’s behavior. Every individual is gaining the power to make a fuller impact on his environment and the ability to voice his opinion concerning the state of his world. As more individual voices and wills are exercised, the stability and balance of our global system will be harder to maintain. We must persistently understand our world with a holistic perspective to gain in depth awareness of its behavior as an independent entity. Gaining this holistic view is essential in understanding our future evolution.