What is a system: Donella H. Meadows

What is a system?

Reda SadkiTheory

Donella H. Meadows wrote the following simple, eloquent description of a system: “A system isn’t just any old collection of things. A system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose. A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something. The behavior of a system cannot be known just by knowing the elements of which the system is made. A system is more than the sum of its parts. It may exhibit adaptive, dynamic, goal-seeking, self-preserving, and sometimes evolutionary behavior. It is easier to learn about a system’s elements than about its interconnections. If information-based relationships are hard to see, functions or purposes are even harder. A system’s function or purpose is not necessarily spoken, written, or expressed explicitly, except through the operation of the system. Purposes are deduced from behavior, not from rhetoric or …