— C. West Churchman American philosopher and systems scientist 1913 - 2004
Context: 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.