Date of Award

Fall 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Management & Systems Engineering

Committee Director

Charles B. Keating

Committee Member

Adrian Gheorghe

Committee Member

Andres Sousa-Poza

Committee Member

Andrew Hutton


The purpose of this research is to explore the principles and concepts of systems theory in pursuit of a collection of complex systems archetypes that can be used for system exploration and diagnostics. The study begins with an examination of the archetypes and classification systems that already exist in the domain of systems theory. This review includes a critique of their purpose, structure, and general applicability. The research then develops and employs a new approach to grounded theory, using a visual coding model to explore the origins, relationships, and meanings of the principles of systems theory. The goal of the visual grounded theory approach is to identity underlying, recurrent imagery in the systems literature that will form the basis for the archetypes.

Using coding models derived from the literature, the study then examines the interrelationships between system principles. These relationships are used to clearly define the environment where the archetypes are found in terms of energy, entropy and time. A collection of complex system archetypes is then derived which are firmly rooted in the literature, as well as being demonstrably manifested in the real world. The definitions of the emerging complex systems archetypes are consistent with the environmental definition and are governed by the system’s behavior related to energy collection, entropy displacement, and the pursuit of viability.

Once the archetypes have been identified, this study examines the similarities and differences that distinguish them. The individual system principles that either define or differentiate each of the archetypes are described, and real-world manifestations of the archetypes are discussed. The collection of archetypes is then examined as a continuum, where they are related to one another in terms of energy use, entropy accumulation, self-modification and external-modification.

To illustrate the applicability of these archetypes, a case study is undertaken which examines a medium-sized organization with multiple departments in an industrial setting. The individual departments are discussed in detail, and their archetypical forms are identified and described. Finally, the study examines future applications for the archetypes and other research that might enhance their utility for complex systems governance.



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Akers Video Presentation