First introduced by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Systems Theory outlines a broader set of principles that theorize how both mechanical and organic systems operate. In Systems Theory, mechanical systems are generally “closed systems”, which are more predefined, less complex and less subject to outside influence. Organic systems are “open systems”, constantly evolving, highly complex and always viewed in the context of their operating environment. But Systems Theory also adds additional thinking lenses to the conversation that I think are important: for example, open systems theory suggests that the boundaries of an organization – what is (or is not) a part of an organization is constantly open to change. Unlike an organism which typically is defined by a “body”, “colony” or similar defined unit, this allows a much more fluid and inclusive way of thinking that I believe better fits an association which may extend its reach at various time through creating conversations beyond its formal boundaries, establishing temporary strategic alliances, or suspending activity in a particular element of its plan of work while maintaining the capacity to reactivate that element at a later time.
For more about Systems Theory, check out the nice quick overview on enotes.com. A few more links of interest include 1) a discussion of closed system approaches to organization theory, 2) discussions around iPad and Android as open and closed systems and 3) one opinion that iPad's closed system approach may at least one great advantage.
What are your thoughts?