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14). Certainly, the vast majority of people in the West have come to think about the world around them in terms of the Greek philosophical tradition, combined with some version of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions. For example, Freiberg (1977) reports that "Philosophical systems based on positive and dialectical logic have co-existed throughout Western history, but dialectical philosophies have become increasingly important during the last two centuries" (p. 3). This author suggests that the emergence of formal symbolic logic in recent years can be attributed, at least in part, to the development of dialectical logic following the philosophy espoused by Hegel, particularly as it concerns its subsequent sociological reinterpretation by Marx (Freiberg, 1977). By sharp contrast, though, the Daoism traditions are virtually outside this hard-wired way of thinking about the world, and it quickly becomes clear that there is some type of conscious effort required in order to "think outside the box" in the West today - but this can be extremely challenging because it would seem no one wants their views of the world challenged or threatened. For example, Trott (2001) advises, "A basic worldview can be challenged, but seldom is by those who have committed to it" (p. 639). In fact, some observers suggest that while the Western view of the world has enjoyed its share of successes, the manner in which these achievements were achieved was less than desirable. According to Linstone and Mitroff:

There is no doubt whatsoever of the great success of the Inductive-Consensual and the Analytic-Deductive approaches in the natural sciences. Any one of countless models from Newton to Einstein attest to their overwhelming achievements. In the social sciences and in human affairs in general, however, far less 'agreement' exists regarding the success of this approach. (p. 46).

When researchers attempted to use systems thinking in real-world problem situations during the 1970s and 1980s, they largely found that what made the situations challenging from the outset was the inability to define objectives precisely, given the changing, multiple, ambiguous, and conflicting alternatives; these obstacles were at the level of "what to do?" As well as "how should we do it?" (Currie & Galliers, 1999, p. 52). The alternative to this approach was founded on the real-world universality of any attempted gainful action within the realm of human affairs; it also embraced the need to treat an associated set of activities that comprised a purposeful whole as a new system type: "a human activity system" (Currie & Galliers, 1999, p. 52). Alternative methods of framing models of such notional systems were developed subsequently introduced in the West, with each new paradigm being founded on a stated worldview. Currie and Galliers suggest that this was necessary "because one observer's terrorism is another's freedom fighting. Such models could then be used as devices to structure questioning of the problem situation (so that they were models 'relevant to' debate, not 'of' anything in the real world)" (Currie & Galliers, 1999, p. 52). This alternative method of systems thinking became known as "soft systems methodology" (SSM); it is described by these authors as being learning system as well as a system of inquiry; it is "one which happens to make use of models of activity systems (but other models could be incorporated)" (p. 52). The difference between this manner of systems thinking and the systematic thinking in the methods of systems engineering, RAND, and computer systems analysis is now considered to represent the milestone between the soft systems thinking of the 1970s and 1980s and the hard systems thinking of the earlier alternatives (Currie & Galliers, 1999). This is not to say, of course, that all people in the West - or the East - think exactly alike; it is to say, though, that everyone has a unique view of the world that helps guide them through the everyday routine. According to Olson and Roese (1995), "worldviews function something like schemas (cohesive and stable cognitive structures) in their functions of directing attention; structuring experience; and guiding memory, inference, and the interpretation of events" (p. 237). In many cases, even people from the same culture and background will develop entirely different conclusions when confronted with the same problems (Briggs & Peat, 2002).

The primary difference between them which remains largely unaddressed in the scholarly literature to date, is that the hard tradition assumes that systems exist in the world and can be engineered to achieve declared objectives. By contrast, the soft tradition assumes that the world is problematical, always more complex than any of mere human accounts of it; however, the process of enquiry into the world can itself be engineered as a learning system, one in which soft systems thinkers have the option consciously to adopt the hard stance if they so desire (Currie & Galliers, 1999). "It is this shift of systemicity, from assuming systems to exist in the world to assuming that the process of enquiry into the world can be organised as a learning system, which defines the two varieties of systems thinking" (Currie & Galliers, 1999, p. 52). It is also this shift of systemic thinking that directly relates to the Daoist view of the relationship between mankind and the universe. From the Western perspective, it is assumed that everyone is capable of summoning the resilience to solve any problem or overcome any type of misfortune. "It is simply a matter of reasoned action to choose to make lemonade when life gives you lemons, and to choose to find the silver lining in every cloud" (Olson & Roese, 1995, p. 239). By sharp contrast, the Daoist approach to these same issues involves acknowledging that complex problems require complex solutions, and in some cases solutions may not even be available no matter how hard one tries; in these cases, it is matter of "going with the flow," a tendency that frequently runs counter to Western thought (Fraser et al., 1986).


The research showed that Daoism is an ancient religious and philosophical tradition in the East in general and China in particular. While Daoism embraces a number of wide ranging views about the universe and mankind's place in it, the manner in which Daoists think about the processes that drive these forces and what they can do about them can be considered a highly refined systemic manner of thinking that is not incongruent with Western views, particularly as they have evolved in recent years. Part of this process of amalgamation has been fueled by innovations in telecommunications and travel that have provided increased exposure to other worldviews in the West, but it is being driven more today by a fundamental need to better understand the West's major competitors in the marketplace in the 21st century. In this regard, "know thy enemy" is an appropriate analogy for an economic perspective, and it captures the essence of the changes in thinking that have emerged in recent years.


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Briggs, J., & Peat, F.D. (2000). Seven life lessons of chaos: Spiritual wisdom from the science of change. New York: Perennial.

Chamberlain, H.S. (1913). Foundations of the nineteenth century. London: Bodley Head. In D.M. Jones. (2001). The image of China in Western social and political thought. New York: Palgrave.

Clarke, J.J. (2000). The Tao of the West: Western transformations of Taoist thought. London: Routledge.

Currie, W., & Galliers, B. (1999). Rethinking management information systems: An interdisciplinary perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Trott, E. (2001). Western mindscapes: A philosophical challenge. American Review…[continue]

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