C. West Churchman

American philosopher and systems scientist (1913-2004)

Charles West Churchman (29 August 191321 March 2004) was an American philosopher and systems scientist, known for his pioneering work in operations research, system analysis and ethics.

A systems approach begins when first you see the world through the eyes of another,
Churchman (1968; 231)





Theory of Experimental Inference (1948)


C. West Churchman, Theory of Experimental Inference (1948)

  • Ethical judgments can be [should be] included in the scope of science
  • The individuation process, as the way of development and maturation of the psyche, does not follow a straight line, nor does it always lead onwards and upwards. The course it follows is rather “stadial”, consisting of progress and regress, flux and stagnation in alternating sequence. Only when we glance back over a long stretch of the way can we notice the development. If we wish to mark out the way somehow or other, it can equally well be considered a “spiral”, the same problems and motifs occurring again and again on different levels.
    • p. 216; cited by Jolande Jacobi (1983) The way of individuation. p. 34, translation of Der Weg zur Individuation. Rascher, Zürich 1965
  • If the chance of error alone were the sole basis for evaluating methods of inference, we would never reach a decision, but would merely keep increasing the sample size indefinitely.
    • p. 255; cited in The Journal of the American Forensic Association. Vol 20-22 (1984), p. 180
  • There would be cases where we would not want to accept an hypothesis even though the evidence gives a high d.c. [degree of confirmation] score, because we are fearful of the consequences of a wrong decision.
    • p. 256; cited in Sharyn Clough (2003) Siblings Under the Skin: Feminism, Social Justice, and Analytic Philosophy. p. 284
  • The complete analysis of the methods of scientific inference shows that the theory of inference in science demands the use of ethical judgments
    • p. 256; cited in Douglas, H.E. (2009) Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal



Costs, Utilities, and Values, Sections I and II. (1956)


C. West Churchman, Costs, Utilities, and Values, Sections I and II. (1956)

  • [Scientists whose work has no clear, practical implications would want to make their decisions considering such things as:] the relative worth of (1) more observations, (2) greater scope of his conceptual model, (3) simplicity, (4) precision of language, (5) accuracy of the probability assignment.
    • p. 248 as cited in: Douglas, H.E. (2009) Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal
  • [C. West Churchman exposed the indifferentist position of some researchers — planners belonging to this school in the following terms:] And if our clients blow up the world, land us in starvation or totalitarianism, that is too bad, but we remained pure in heart to the last, didn't we?
    • p. 412 as cited in: Bogdan Mieczkowski, Oleg Zinam (1984) Bureaucracy, ideology, technology: quality of life East and West. p. 97

"Management Science — Fact or Theory?" 1956


C. West Churchman, "Management Science — Fact or Theory?" Management Science, Vol. II, No. 2 (January, 1956), p. 185.

  • One cannot help but be struck by the diversity that characterizes efforts to study the management process. If it is true that psychologists like to study personality traits in terms of a person's reactions to objects and events, they could not choose a better stimulus than management science. Some feel it is a technique, some feel it is a branch of mathematics, or of mathematical economics, or of the "behavioral sciences," or of consultation services, or just so much nonsense. Some feel it is for management (vs. labor), some feel it ought to be for the good of mankind — or for the good of underpaid professors.
But this diversity of attitude, which is really characteristic of all fields of endeavor, is matched by another and more serious kind of diversity. In the management sciences, we have become used to talking about game theory, inventory theory, waiting line theory. What we mean by "theory" in this context is that if certain assumptions are valid, then such-and-such conclusions follow. Thus inventory theory is not a set of statements that predict how inventories will behave, or even how they should behave in actual situations, but is rather a deductive system which becomes useful if the assumptions happen to hold. The diversity of attitude on this point is reflected in two opposing points of view: that the important problems of management science are theoretical, and that the important problems are factual.
  • Another way of emphasizing this diversity is to argue that if one cannot forecast (predict), one does not have a theory, and that forecasting is the weakest link in the chain of the management sciences at present. Indeed, if one cannot predict one cannot measure, and if one cannot measure, then there is no "theory."
This argument will seem entirely too strong to some. We do "forecast" in terms of probability distributions, and we do make measurements in terms of "costs." Of course, the management scientist has done all sorts of things with the concept of cost which few cost accountants would condone. But in the laboratory and outside it in industrial studies, one sees the emergence of a cost concept which eventually should revolutionize the measurements in managerial policy-making.
Theory and fact are just two sides of the same coin, but the two sides of a coin are different, and this difference will continue to characterize the development of management science.

Introduction to Operations Research (1957)


C. West Churchman, Russell L. Ackoff, and E. Leonard Arnoff, Introduction to Operations Research (1957)

  • This text grew from the lecture material for the "Short Course in Operations Research" which has been offered annually (since 1952) by Case Institute of Technology.
    • p. vii
  • No science has ever been born on a specific day. Each science emerges out of a convergence of an increased interest in some class of problems and the development of scientific methods, techniques, and tools which are adequate to solve these problems. Operations Research (O.R.) is no exception. Its roots are as old as science and the management function. Its name dates back only to 1940.
    • p. 3; Partly cited in: Ivor Grattan-Guinness (2003) Companion encyclopedia of the history and philosophy of the mathematical sciences, Vol 1. p. 841
  • O.R.'s initial development began in the United Kingdom during World War II and was quickly taken up in the United States. This start took place in a military context. After the war O.R. moved into business, industry and civil government. This movement was slower in the United States than in the United Kingdom but in 1951 industrial O.R. took hold in this country and has since developed very rapidly.
    • p. 3
  • An objective of O.R. as it emerged from this evolution of industrial organization, is to provide managers of the organizations with a scientific basis for solving problems involving the interaction of the components of the organization in the best interest of the organization as a whole. A decision which is best for the organization as a whole is called optimum decision.
  • The comprehensiveness of OR’s aim is an example of a ‘systems’ approach, since ‘system’ implies an interconnected complex of functionally related components.
  • This text is oriented toward human organizations since this has been the emphasis in the practice of O.R. in business and industry.
    • p. 7
  • The systems approach to problems does not mean that the most generally formulated problem must be solved in one research project. However desirable this may be, it is seldom possible to realize it in practice. In practice, parts of the total problem are usually solved in sequence. In many cases the total problem cannot be formulated in advance but the solution of one phase of it helps define the next phase. For example, a production control project may require determination of the most economic production quantities of different items. Once these are found it may turn out that these quantities cannot be produced on the available equipment in the available time. This, then, gives rise to a new problem whose solution will affect the solution obtained in the first phase.
    • p. 7
  • The concern of OR with finding an optimum decision, policy, or design is one of its essential characteristics. It does not seek merely to define a better solution to a problem than the one in use; it seeks the best solution... [It] can be characterized as the application of scientific methods, techniques, and tools to problems involving the operations of systems so as to provide those in control of the operations with optimum solutions to the problems.
    • p. 8, cited in: R.L. McCown (2001) "Learning to bridge the gap between science-based decision support and the practice of farming". In: Aust. J. Agric. Res., Vol 52, p. 560-561
  • Analysis of the mathematical form and underlying principles of games was made by von Neumann " as early as 1928. In this early work von Neumann was not so much interested in executive-type problems as he was in the logical foundations of quantum mechanics. It was not until 1944, when von Neumann and Morgenstern published their now well known Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, that the mathematical treatment of games "took fire."
    • p. 519: Partly cited in: E. Roy Weintraub (1992) Toward a history of game theory. p. 235


  • We have overwhelming evidence that available information plus analysis does not lead to knowledge. The management science team can properly analyse a situation and present recommendations to the manager, but no change occurs. The situation is so familiar to those of us who try to practice management science that I hardly need to describe the cases.
    • C. West Churchman, "Managerial acceptance of scientific recommendations" in California Management Review, Vol 7 (1964), p. 33; cited in Management Systems (1971), by Peter P. Schoderbek, p. 199
  • How can we design improvement in large systems without understanding the whole system, and if the answer is that we cannot, how is it possible to understand the whole system?
    • C. West Churchman, Challenge to Reason (1968), p. 2; cited in '" C. West Churchman — 75 years" by Werner Ulrich, in Systems Practice (December 1988), Volume 1, Issue 4, p. 341-350

Guest editorial: Wicked problems (1967)


C. West Churchman, "Guest editorial: Wicked problems" in Management Sciences 14(4)', p. 141-142

  • [ Wicked problems are ] social problems which are ill formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision-makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing.
    • p. 141 cited in: John Mingers (2011) "Introduction to the Special Issue: Teaching Soft O.R., Problem Structuring Methods, and Multimethodology" in Informs, Vol. 12, No. 1, September 2011, pp. 1–3
  • Deception, in turn , suggests morality: the morality of deceiving people into thinking something is so when it is not.[...] The moral principle is this: whoever attempts to tame a part of a wicked problem, but not the whole, is morally wrong.
    • p. 142 cited in: Rob Hundman (2010) Weerbarstig veranderen. p. 38
  • What seems to emerge is not a moral reprimand of the management scientist, but rather a moral problem of the profession, a wicked moral problem.
    • p. 142 cited in: Rob Hundman (2010) Weerbarstig veranderen. p. 38
About this 1967 publication
  • Lindblom (1959) and Churchman (1967) make it clear that the assumption of synoptic or complete rationality in planning systems is not only inadequate in a methodological sense, but illegitimate in an ethical or professional sense.
    • J.I. MacLellan (2009). "Brokering the Local Global Dialectic". In: Linking Climate and Impact Models to Decision and Policy Making. Edited by A. Fenech, and J.I. MacLellan. Environment Canada, Toronto. The first reference mentioned here refers to Charles E. Lindblom (1959) "The Science Of 'Muddling Through'." In: Public Administration Review, 19, p. 79–88

The Systems Approach (1968)


C. West Churchman, The Systems Approach (1968)

  • When one is considering systems it's always wise to raise questions about the most obvious and simple assumptions.
    • p. ix
It is sheer nonsense to expect that any human being has yet been able to attain such insight into the problems of society that he can really identify the central problems and determine how they should be solved. The systems in which we live are far too complicated as yet for our intellectual powers and technology to understand.
Churchman (1968, p. x)
  • It is sheer nonsense to expect that any human being has yet been able to attain such insight into the problems of society that he can really identify the central problems and determine how they should be solved. The systems in which we live are far too complicated as yet for our intellectual powers and technology to understand.
    • p. x
  • It is only natural to expect that improvement can occur in certain sectors of the system without our having delved deeply into the characteristics of the whole system. Thus, for example, there is a tradition in Western thought that parts of the whole system can be studied and improved more or less in isolation from the rest of the system.

    So deeply ingrained is this concept of social improvement in Western thought that we naturally think it proper to subdivide our society into functional elements. We think it proper that each element develop its own criteria of improvement and that the elements be as free as possible from the interference of the other parts of the social structure... Men have neglected a very serious problem in defining improvement. The problem is very simple: How can we design improvement in large systems without understanding the whole system, and if we the answer is that we cannot, how is it possible to understand the whole system?
    • p. 2 as cited in: John P. van Gigch (1991) System Design Modeling and Metamodeling. p. 145.
  • The problem of systems improvement is the problem of the 'ethics of the whole system'.
    • p. 4
  • The idea of a ‘system approach’ is both quite popular and quite unpopular. It’s popular because it sounds good to say that the whole system is being considered, but it’s quite unpopular because it sounds either like a lot of nonsense or else downright dangerous – so much evil can be created under the guise of serving the whole.
    • p. 11
  • We are always obliged to think about the larger system. If we fail to do this, then our thinking becomes fallacious.
    • p. 27
  • The ultimate meaning of the systems approach, therefore, lies in the creation of a theory of deception and in a fuller understanding of the ways in which the human being can be deceived about his world and in an interaction between these different viewpoints.
    • p. 29
  • The scientist has to have a way of thinking about the environment of a system that is richer and more subtle than a mere looking at for boundaries. He does this by noting that, when we say that something lies ‘outside’ the system, we mean that system can do relatively little about its characteristics or its behavior. Environment, in effect, makes up the things and people that are ‘fixed’ or ‘given’, from the system’s point of view.
    • p. 35
  • The management of a system has to deal with the generation of the plans for the system, i.e., consideration of all of the things we have discussed, the overall goals, the environment, the utilization of resources and the components. The management sets the component goals, allocates the resources, and controls the system performance.
    • p. 44
  • For the scientist a model is also a way in which the human though processes can be amplified. This method often takes the form of models that can be programmed into computers. At no point, however, the scientist intend to loose control of the situation because off the computer does some of his thinking for him. The scientist controls the basic assumptions and the computer only derives some of the more complicated implications.
    • p. 61
  • In general, we can say that the larger the system becomes, the more the parts interact, the more difficult it is to understand environmental constraints, the more obscure becomes the problem of what resources should be made available, and deepest of all, the more difficult becomes the problem of the legitimate values of the system.
    • p. 77; cited in John Gall (1978) Systemantics; how systems work... and especially how they fail
  • The ultimate meaning of the systems approach . . . lies in the creation of a theory of deception and in a fuller understanding of the ways in which the human being can be deceived about (her) his world, and in the interaction between these different viewpoints.
    • p. 229; cited in Charles Smith (2007) "Deception Meets Enlightenment: From a Viable Theory of Deception to a Quirk About Humanity's Potential". In: World Futures Vol 63, p. 42
  • However a systems problem is solved—by a planner, scientist, politician, antiplanner, or whomever—the solution is wrong, even dangerously wrong. There is bound to be deception in any approach to the system.
    • p. 229; cited in Charles Smith (2007, p. 43)
  • It's not as though we can expect that next year or a decade from now someone will find the correct systems approach and all deception will disappear. This, in my opinion, is not in the nature of systems. What is in the nature of systems is a continuing perception and deception, a continuing re-viewing of the world, of the whole system, and of its components. The essence of the systems approach, therefore, is confusion as well as enlightenment. The two are inseparable aspects of human living.
    • p. 231; cited in Charles Smith (2007, p. 44)
  • A systems approach begins when first you see the world through the eyes of another.
    • p. 231; cited in Michael C. Jackson (2003) Systems Thinking: Creative Holism for Managers. p. 139
  • There are no experts in the systems approach
    • p. 232
  • The systems approach is not a bad idea
    • p. 232


  • Operations research '(OR) is the securing of improvement in social systems by means of scientific method
    • C. West Churchman, "Operations research as a profession" (1970); cited in Arjang A. Assad, Saul I. Gass (2011) Profiles in Operations Research: Pioneers and Innovators. p. 181
  • To know that we are measuring real change we need to have a strong theoretical base.
    • C. West Churchman, (1970) in: Systems and management annual. Vol 1, p. 338
  • The theory of the nature of mathematics is extremely reactionary. We do not subscribe to the fairly recent notion that mathematics is an abstract language based, say, on set theory. In many ways, it is unfortunate that philosophers and mathematicians like Russell and Hilbert were able to tell such a convincing story about the meaning-free formalism of mathematics. In Greek, mathematics simply meant learning, and we have adapted this... to define the term as "learing to decide." Mathematics is a way of preparing for decisions through thinking. Sets and classes provide one way to subdivide a problem for decision preparation; a set derives its meaning from decision making, and not vice versa.
    • C. West Churchman, Leonard Auerbach, Simcha Sadan, Thinking for Decisions: Deductive Quantitative Methods (1975) Preface.
  • A system may actually exist as a natural aggregation of component parts found in Nature, or it may be a man-contrived aggregation – a way of looking at a problem which results from a deliberate decision to assume that a set of elements are related and constitute such a thing called ‘a system.
    • C. West Churchman, , I. Auerbach, and Simcha Sadam (1975) Thinking for Decisions Deduction Quantitative Methods. Science Research Associates. cited in: John P. van Gigch (1978) Applied General Systems Theory. Harper & Row Publishers

The Design of Inquiring Systems (1971)


C. West Churchman (1971), The Design of Inquiring Systems

  • Knowledge can be considered as a collection of information, or as an activity, or as a potential. If we think of it as a collection of information, then the analogy of a computer's memory is helpful, for we can say that knowledge about something is like the storage of meaningful and true strings of symbols in a computer.
    • p. 9; cited in Daniel J. Power (2004) Decision Support Systems: Frequently Asked Questions. p. 23
  • To conceive of knowledge as a collection of information seems to rob the concept of all of its life. Knowledge resides in the user and not in the collection. It is how the user reacts to a collection of information that matters.
    • p. 10; cited in Daniel J. Power (2004) Decision Support Systems: Frequently Asked Questions, p. 23
  • Knowledge is a potential for a certain type of action, by which we mean that the action would occur if certain tests were run. For example, a library plus its user has knowledge if a certain type of response will be evoked under a given set of stipulations.
    • p. 11
  • Design, properly viewed, is an enormous liberation of the intellectual spirit, for it challenges this spirit to an unbounded speculation about possibilities.
    • p. 13; cited in Jong S. Jun, Frank P. Sherwood (2007) The Social Construction of Public Administration. p. 76
  • The religious Weltanschauung, … describes a certain kind of relationship – such as love, adoration and obedience – between men and other men, or between men and some superior being. or between men and "Nature".
    • p. 238 as cited in: Charles François (2006) "Ethics and enlightened personal responsibility" in: Wisdom, Knowledge, and Management. C.West Churchman and Related Works Series Volume 2, 2006, pp 161-168
  • Inquiry is the creation of knowledge or understanding; it is the reaching out of a human being beyond himself to a perception of what he may be or could be, or what the world could be or ought to be.
    • Cited in: John Zeisel (1984) Inquiry by design: tools for environment-behavior research. p. 3

The Systems Approach and Its Enemies (1979)


C. West Churchman, The Systems Approach and Its Enemies (1979)

  • Common to all these enemies is that none of them accepts the reality of the "whole system": we do not exist in such a system. Furthermore, in the case of morality, religion, and aesthetics, at least a part of our reality reality as human is not "in" any system, and yet it plays a central role in our lives.
    To me these enemies provide a powerful way of learning about the systems approach, precisely because they enable the rational mind to step outside itself and to observe itself (from the vantage point of the enemies).
    • p. 24; Partly as cited in: Reynolds, Martin (2003). "Social and Ecological Responsibility: A Critical Systemic Perspective." In: Critical Management Studies Conference 'Critique and Inclusively: Opening the Agenda'; in the stream OR/Systems Thinking for Social Improvement, 7-9 July 2003, Lancaster University, UK.
    • Churchman had identified four generic enemies: politics, morality, religion, and aesthetics.
  • We must face the reality that the enemies offer: what's really happening in the human world is politics, or morality, or religion, or aesthetics. This confrontation with reality is totally different from the rational approach, because the reality of the enemies cannot be conceptualized, approximated, or measured.
    • p. 53
  • Finally we should note the basic assumption of the classical laboratory-namely, that nature is neither capricious nor secretive. If nature were capricious, she would tell one observer one thing and another observer a quite different thing... Also nature is not secretive, in the sense that she will not forever hide certain aspects of her being...
    • p. 57; as cited in: Carolyn Merchant (1982) "Isis' Consciousness Raised", in: Isis, Vol. 73, No. 3. (1982), pp. 398-409
  • The enemies will be asking reasonable questions, like Isn't politics the way matters are really decided, and isn't the rational systems approach simply one political device, to be used when politically expedient? Or isn't morality essentially inexpressible in terms of concepts and words, and doesn't this essentially ineffable quality of our lives lead us humans to decide the way we do? Or, isn't religious imagery really the basis of all our perspectives and concepts, including the perspective of the systems approach? And what is it that carries the values we humans cherish? It is not the ego or the mind, but, say our basic aesthetic feeling, which cannot be conceptualized. And finally, and most generally, why is a rational, holistic approach desirable for the human species, especially since it so often gets out of hand, missing the vital essence of the specific and individual, the here and now, encompassing "everything" to the exclusion of every thing?
  • For the goal planner, reality stops at the boundaries of the problem. For the objective- planner, it stops at the boundaries set by feasibility and to some extent by responsibility. For the ideal-planner, there are no "real" boundaries.
    • p. 106
  • The story begins with a somewhat disgruntled hero, who perceived of the world as populated with stupid people, everywhere committing the environmental fallacy. The fallacy was a case not merely of the “mind’s falling into error,” but rather of the mind leading all of us into incredible dangers as it first builds crisis and then attacks crisis.
    Like all heroes, this one looked about for resources, for aids that would help in a dangerous battle, and he found plenty of support – in both the past and the present. It won’t hurt to summarize the story thus far. If the intellect is to engage in the heroic adventure of securing improvement in the human condition, it cannot rely on “approaches,” like politics and morality, which attempt to tackle problems head-on, within the narrow scope. Attempts to address problems in such a manner simply lead to other problems, to an amplification of difficulty away from real improvement. Thus the key to success in the hero’s attempt seems to be comprehensiveness. Never allow the temptation to be clear, or to use reliable data, or to “come up to the standards of excellence,” divert you from the relevant, even though the relevant may be elusive, weakly supported by data, and requiring loose methods.
    Thus the academic world of Western twentieth century society is a fearsome enemy of the systems approach, using as it does a politics to concentrate the scholars’ attention on matters that are scholastically respectable but disreputable from a systems-planning point of view.
  • Enemies are hostile, out to stop you, to eliminate you and your ideas; they are also to be loved, even as yourself.
    • p. 156
  • Suppose we consider, not the rationality of holism, but its spirituality. Holism traditionally says that a collection of beings may have a collective property that cannot be inferred from the properties of its members.
    • p. 212; cited in Janet Judy McIntyre-Mills (2003) Critical Systemic Praxis for Social and Environmental Justice. p. 65


  • I am often inclined to put the implementation questions first, ie, "Can anything be changed?" Should the implementation question not accompany the whole process from its very beginning to its very end?
    • C. West Churchman (1979, p. 21) as cited in: Interfaces (1982) Vol 12, p. 12

Thought and Wisdom (1982)


C. West Churchman, Thought and Wisdom (1982)

  • It would be a good thing, if the systems planner's germination was moral outrage and not just a mild felt need. In other words, I do not think we should view the major problems of the world today with calm objectivity. We shouldn't first ask ourselves for a precise and operational definition of malnutrition. We should begin with 'kids are starving in great numbers, damn it all!
    • p. 17
  • The design of my philosophical life is based on an examination of the following question: is it possible to secure improvement in the human condition by means of the human intellect? The verb 'to secure' is (for me) terribly important, because problem solving often appears to produce improvement, but the so-called 'solution' often makes matters worse in the larger system (e.g., the many food programs of the last quarter century may well have made world-wide starvation even worse than no food programs would have done.) The verb ‘to secure' means that in the larger system over time the improvement persists.
    I have to admit that the philosophical question is much more difficult than my very limited intellect can handle. I don't know what 'human condition' and 'human intellect' mean, though I've done my best to tap the wisdom of such diverse fields as depth psychology, economics, sociology, anthropology, public health, management science, education, literature, and history. But to me the essence of philosophy is to pose serious and meaningful questions that are too difficult for any of us to answer in our lifetimes. Wisdom, or the love of wisdom, is just that: thought likes solutions, wisdom abhors them.
    • p. 19; cited in Werner Ulrich (1998) '" C. West Churchman-75 years". in: Systems practice. December 1988, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 341-350


  • If the story of my early years with Russ sound like they were years of battle, then the sound is correct.
    • C. West Churchman (1990, p. 130) cited in: Magnus Ramage, Karen Shipp (2009) Systems Thinkers. p. 140
  • Everybody's daily life consists of problems arising from what you decided yesterday. Managers understand that. Mathematicians want to solve a theorem, publish the results and walk away clean. Managers never walk away clean. The real world is a very dirty place.
    Clarity is supposed to be the objective of science. I disagree. I think the objective of science is confusion, because confusions carries you into problems.
    • C. West Churchman cited in: Peter R. Horner (1993). "TIMS Turns 40," in: OR/MS Today, Vol. 20, No. 2, p. 40-43
  • I was an Editor-in-Chief of Philosophy of Science during its early years. Now, over a half century later, I have to admit that I was not very clear what the journal was about, except that it tried to reflect on the meaning of science and its relation to other human activities. At this time I am even less sure of its purposes.
    • C. West Churchman "Guest editorial: what is philosophy of science" In: Philosophy of Science Vol. 61, No. 1 (Mar., 1994), p. 132-141

Quotes about C. West Churchman

  • Prediction of events is a central problem to which students of decision making have also addressed themselves. See, for example, Simon (1957), Churchman (1948), Bross (1953).
    • Theodore R. Sarbin (1960) Clinical inference and cognitive theory. p. 68 This quote tells us that in 1960 Sarbin considered Churchman's Theory of Experimental Inference as a notable book about the theory of decision making.
  • General systems theory is considered as a formal theory (Mesarovic, Wymore), a methodology (Ashby, Klir), a way of thinking (Bertalanffy, Churchman), a way of looking at the world (Weinberg), a search for an optimal simplification (Ashby, Weinberg), didactic method (Boulding, Klir, Weinberg), metalanguage (Logren), and profession (Klir).
    • George Klir cited in: James T. Ziegenfuss (1983) Patients' rights and organizational models: sociotechnical systems research on mental health programs. p. 104
  • Churchman recognized in his critical systemic thinking that the human mind is not able to know the whole. … Yet the human mind, for Churchman, may appreciate the essential quality of the whole. For Churchman, appreciation of this essential quality begins … when first you see the world through the eyes of another. The systems approach, he says, then goes on to discover that every worldview is terribly restricted. Consequently, with Churchman, a rather different kind of question about practice surfaces. … That is, who is to judge that any one bounded appreciation is most relevant or acceptable? Each judgment is based on a rationality of its own that chooses where a boundary is to be drawn, which issues and dilemmas thus get on the agenda, and who will benefit from this. For each choice it is necessary to ask, What are the consequences to be expected insofar as we can evaluate them and, on reflection, how do we feel about that? As Churchman points out, each judgment of this sort is of an ethical nature since it cannot escape the choice of who is to be the client—the beneficiary—and thus which issues and dilemmas will be central to debate and future action. In this way, the spirit of C. West Churchman becomes our moral conscience. A key principle of systemic thinking, according to Churchman, is to remain ethically alert. Boundary judgments facilitate a debate in which we are sensitized to ethical issues and dilemmas.
    • Robert L. Flood (1999, p. 252-253) as cited in: Michael H. G. Hoffmann (2007) Searching for Common Ground on Hamas Through Logical Argument Mapping. p. 5
  • Systems thinking, as written about and practiced by Russell Ackoff, C. West Churchman, Peter Checkland and others, contained within it many of the impulses that motivate the application of design ideas to strategy, organization, society, and management. Ideas such as engaging a broad set of stakeholders, moving beyond simple metrics and calculations, considering idealized options and using scenarios to explore them, shifting boundaries to reframe problems, iteration, the liberal use of diagrams and rich pictures, and tirelessly searching for a better set of alternatives were all there. If the business and management community had bought it, we would not be having the many discussions about design, design thinking, and expanding management education to engage the intuitive, to embrace values, to look beyond available choices.
    • Fred Collopy (2009) "Lessons Learned -- Why the Failure of Systems Thinking Should Inform the Future of Design Thinking". In Fast Company blog, June 7, 2009
  • Managers within organizations sometimes confront a type of problem that is difficult to solve, in part, because the problems involve many stakeholders with diverse perspectives. The different assumptions from each perspective result in differing views of the problem and potential solutions. It is difficult to produce a satisfactory potential solution when the formulation of the problem definition is the major concern and when applying a potential solution risks unintended consequences. Churchman (1967, p. 141) writes that the solutions proposed to solve these problems "often turned out to be worse than the symptoms"
    • Quote from Lars Paul (2010) A method for developing Churchmanian Knowledge Management Systems. p. 2
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