International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics

2nd Edition, as published by Charles François 2004 Presented by the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science Vienna for public access.


The International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics was first edited and published by the system scientist Charles François in 1997. The online version that is provided here was based on the 2nd edition in 2004. It was uploaded and gifted to the center by ASC president Michael Lissack in 2019; the BCSSS purchased the rights for the re-publication of this volume in 200?. In 2018, the original editor expressed his wish to pass on the stewardship over the maintenance and further development of the encyclopedia to the Bertalanffy Center. In the future, the BCSSS seeks to further develop the encyclopedia by open collaboration within the systems sciences. Until the center has found and been able to implement an adequate technical solution for this, the static website is made accessible for the benefit of public scholarship and education.



1. "Capacity of an organization to suffer limited change without severe disorganization" (J. FEIBLEMAN & J.W FRIEND,.1969, p.41).

2. Capacity of a system to adapt itself to strong perturbations by switching from one domain of dynamic stability to another (Adapted from C. HOLLING – 1976).

In another definition K. SAYRE emphasizes the relation between the system and its environment. He also uses the somewhat controverted concept of negentropy: "… the capacity of an organism to establish efficient couplings with its environment, under a range of different conditions, through which negentropy can be obtained to support its growth and metabolism and to control its response to environmental conditions" (1976, p.117).

This concept is akin to W.R. ASHBY's Law of Requisite Variety. Flexibility also seems to be a condition for better adaptation, and probably evolution.

SAYRE quotes J. HERRICK, who wrote: "Progressive organic evolution may be defined as change in the direction of increase in the range and variety of adjustments of the organism to its environment… This involves increase in the complexity of structure, ensuring sensitivity to a greater variety of environing energies and more refined sensory analysis"(1946, p.469).

Thus, increased flexibility, through "increase in the complexity of structure" is also related to dissipation of energy and this early insight has been later vindicated by Prigoginian dissipative structuration in systems far away from thermodynamic equilibrium.

Another definition given by H. VOLBERDA and T.DE LEEUW applies somewhat more restrictively to human organizations: "… the degree to which an organization possesses a variety of actual and potential procedures, and the rapidity by which it can implement these procedures, in order to increase the control capability of the management and improve the controllability of the organization and the environment" (1992, p.1083).

According to G. BATESON: "Flexibility may be defined as uncommitted potentiality for change" (1973, p.473).

The most stable systems (or organizations) are not the most rigid ones, but those which can oscillate with some amplitude within the limits of their conditions of dynamic stability.

FEIBLEMAN and FRIEND give the following example: "A river is a flexible organization (i.e. system) since its course and dimensions may be altered to a very great extent without damage to its essential structure" (Ibid).

Flexibility is maxima in very decentralized and heterogeneous systems. However, an excess of flexibility may lead to loss of cohesion, incoherence and break up of the system.

In R.L. ACKOFF's opinion however: "There is no limit to the amount of flexibility that can be designed into a system. The more uncertainty an organization faces, the more flexibility should be designed into it" (1988, p.245).

And:" The more flexible an organization is, the more it can redesign itself… Therefore, the ability to learn and adapt rapidly and effectively must be designed into organizations intended to be flexible" (Ibid.).

Autonomy, Resilience


  • 1) General information
  • 2) Methodology or model
  • 3) Epistemology, ontology and semantics
  • 4) Human sciences
  • 5) Discipline oriented


Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science(2020).

To cite this page, please use the following information:

Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (2020). Title of the entry. In Charles François (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics (2). Retrieved from www.systemspedia.org/[full/url]

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