Systems, Measures, and Workers: Producing and Obscuring the System and Making Systemic Performance Improvement Difficult

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Early in the preparation of this chapter, James A. Pershing, the editor of this volume, suggested that systems thinking in instructional and performance technology is more metaphorical than systems thinking in the physical or biological sciences and does not have the same status. In other words, for us, systems are more abstract depictions when applied to social phenomena rather than physical processes and serve as a convenient tool to think with as we attempt to learn and know things, create new knowledge, develop and control social phenomena, and analyze and try to reorient social phenomena when they do not work as we intended or when we change our minds about how we want organizations to function. Indeed, all theories are properly thought of as tools to think with. This chapter accepts that view of systems as accurate. As we continue to learn about our systems, our theories of how they function should change. Of course, this does not necessarily mean they become more true or closer to perfection, only that our theories are changed to fit what we are experiencing in the real world. In other words, systems thinking appears to do things to us, and we do things to systems thinking that changes how we know it and can use it in our work.