The Debt of Systems Theory to Thermodynamics
journal contributionposted on 08.06.2017 by Roos, Ian
Any type of content formally published in an academic journal, usually following a peer-review process.
Systems theory, is often seen as unifying; spanning the physical, biological, and social sciences. The term theory is perhaps a misnomer in that in general form it is neither testable, falsifiable or predictive. However, most of the theories or laws describing the physical universe use the concept of a system. It can be argued that it fits Kuhn's concept of a paradigm. "Systems theory" as applied to organisations uses as analogies some of the concepts of thermodynamics, such as open and closed systems, exchange with the surroundings, and entropy. Thermodynamics is concerned with the interchange of energy as either heat or work. It is, therefore, surprising that a concept as difficult to understand as entropy should be borrowed and applied to organisations, but simpler concepts such as work, temperature, heat, and equilibrium ignored. This paper will explore whether there is value in using some of these concepts when describing an organisation as a system.