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Systems Thinking, Systems Practice: Includes a 30-Year Retrospective [Paperback]

Peter Checkland
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 16, 1999 0471986062 978-0471986065 1
Systems Thinking, Systems Practice "Whether by design, accident or merely synchronicity, Checkland appears to have developed a habit of writing seminal publications near the start of each decade which establish the basis and framework for systems methodology research for that decade." Hamish Rennie, Journal of the Operational Research Society, 1992 Thirty years ago Peter Checkland set out to test whether the Systems Engineering (SE) approach, highly successful in technical problems, could be used by managers coping with the unfolding complexities of organizational life. The straightforward transfer of SE to the broader situations of management was not possible, but by insisting on a combination of systems thinking strongly linked to real-world practice Checkland and his collaborators developed an alternative approach - Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) - which enables managers of all kinds and at any level to deal with the subtleties and confusions of the situations they face. This work established the now accepted distinction between 'hard' systems thinking, in which parts of the world are taken to be 'systems' which can be 'engineered', and 'soft' systems thinking in which the focus is on making sure the process of inquiry into real-world complexity is itself a system for learning. Systems Thinking, Systems Practice (1981) and Soft Systems Methodology in Action (1990) together with an earlier paper Towards a Systems-based Methodology for Real-World Problem Solving (1972) have long been recognized as classics in the field. Now Peter Checkland has looked back over the three decades of SSM development, brought the account of it up to date, and reflected on the whole evolutionary process which has produced a mature SSM. SSM: A 30-Year Retrospective, here included with Systems Thinking, Systems Practice closes a chapter on what is undoubtedly the most significant single research programme on the use of systems ideas in problem solving. Now retired from full-time university work, Peter Checkland continues his research as a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow.

Frequently Bought Together

Systems Thinking, Systems Practice: Includes a 30-Year Retrospective + Thinking in Systems: A Primer + The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization
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Editorial Reviews


"...a primer and hidden gem..." (Health Service Journal, 20 June 2002)

From the Publisher

Develops an explicit account of the ``systems outlook'' and shows how to use that outlook in the solution of practical problems. Describes how the theory and applications were modified through experience and includes reflections on the interaction between theory and practice. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (September 16, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471986062
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471986065
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #373,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
61 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where it all began... July 11, 2002
By Zentao
Well, since I've been on a bit of a 'systems' binge lately, I might as well review this old gem...
Checkland's book was the first to introduce the differentiation between 'soft' and 'hard' systems analysis. Soft analysis is much more akin to a general, somewhat philosophical approach to the methodology whereas hard analysis is the development of usable engineering models.
First off, this book is actually two books - the first is a fairly long paper that neatly sums up the systems approach over the 30 years it has been explored. The consensus? Things looked really promising at the beginning but unfortunately the approach simply got hung up on the very thing it was trying to escape: science's current preoccupation with reductionism. That is, the hard systems approach attracted the most attention and it quickly succumbed to the very trap it sought to escape starting with its use of rigidly-defined symbols right up to the detailed diddling with mathematical models that, similar to earlier approaches, did not model reality at all due to assumptions and oversimplification.
Checkland is much more interested in the soft approach and he consistently laments the fact that systems methodology is not being taught even though it holds so much promise to solving many of our pressing problems. The overview presses this point home and should be required reading for anyone in management or engineering.
The second section, the original book with a few revisions, is still very relevant. Checkland's focus, soft systems, never was given a chance given our preoccupation with reductionism. Given the recent failures of reductionism, particularly the genome-mapping fiasco, cast systems theory in new light.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Checkland's masterpiece October 22, 2004
When I first read this book I thought it to be revolutionary, ahead of it's time (as others have) and insightful. Despite the fact that Checkland has in large moved away from the ideas and the model of this book - to me it represents the original vision of SSM (soft systems methodology) more so than his later books. Checkland presents a history of systems thinking in the book then goes onto to discuss the need for a new approach - that of SSM. With extreme elegance of style Checkland delivers a long and stinging critique to Hard Systems thinking and presents a coherent and thoughtful argument for his own version SSM. Further he creates a platform for real world problem solving that is useful and interesting. A lot of his ideas have appeared in American texts (like the fifth discipline for example) and rarely are they credited or made use of in that regard. This book is a good place to start exploring the real world of problems with but I would highly recommended that before you go to his two other books you start here. This in my opinion has not been bettered in any systems context to date and I am not sure it ever will or could be. Having said that you really do need to read it and find out for yourself. Be warned it's not for those who want to be challenged in their thinking - especially those of you who don't like the qualitative stuff.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really worthwhile July 1, 2004
This book is a gem. The basic concepts of systems, hierarchies and emergent properties are developed from the methodologies of physical and social sciences in chapter 3, and makes for fascinating reading. I'm currently writing a master's thesis on it! =)
If you're studying management of information systems or something similar, you are probably sick and tired of overly theoretical approaches to the subject which seem to be just excuses for academics to publish rubbish (eg. structuration, actor network theory, etc). This book may save you from a nervous breakdown.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic that is very relevant today June 13, 2007
I originallay read (and wrote a paper about) Checkland's ideas in 1990 whilst I was studying for my MBA. Then his ideas seemed revolutionary, insightful and impractical. Re-visiting his book nearly 20 years on little has changed in my view of its content, but the world has moved on and what seemed impractical now appears possible.

I would urge anyone involved in creating modern systems based on distributed and dynamic principles to study Checkland.
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