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Fifty years of systems thinking for management

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The point of this paper is to provide an account of the last 50 years of systems thinking applied to management that is insightful and useful to those interested in the theory and practice of operational research (OR). In seeking to fulfil this purpose, it employs Boulding's well-known ‘hierarchy of complexity’ to think through the reasons for the emergence of different strands of applied systems thinking and to detail their strengths. In theoretical terms, operational researchers will find a number of the key issues that have engaged their field (eg, hard versus soft approaches) mirrored in debates that have taken place between systems thinkers. They may discover new theoretical avenues to follow to advance their discipline. OR practitioners may also be surprised by the nature and scope of the systems applications described and conclude that systems approaches should be added to their own intervention strategies. At the least, the paper is designed to reinvigorate discussion around the relationship between OR and systems thinking that has occasionally surfaced over the last half century but has never been satisfactorily concluded.Journal of the Operational Research Society (2009) 60, S24–S32. doi:10.1057/jors.2008.176 Published online 4 February 2009
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Hull, Hull, UK

Publication date: 2009-05-01

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