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The Multiple Perspective Approach

Harold A. Linstone

Systems Science Ph.D. Program, Portland State University, P.O.Box 751, Portland, OR 97207-0751

The multiple perspective (MP) concept was developed in the late 1970s based on the author's systems analysis experience in the corporate planning area and in academe. Specifically, the traditional science-based “technical/analytic” perspective (T) is augmented by two other types of perspective, the “organizational/institutional” (0) and the 'personal/individual“ (P).

It recognizes that decision makers cannot rely solely on technical analysis and modeling when dealing with complex real-life systems. Graham Allison's book Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban A4issite Crisis (Little Brown & Co., 1971) and West Churchman's The Design of Inquiring Systems (Basic Books, 1 971 ) provided a basis for the MP approach.

The T perspective: Problems are simplified by abstraction, idealization, and isolation from the real world. The implicit assumptions and characteristics include reductionism, reliance on scientific logic and rationality, problem-solution focus, quantification, use of data and models, optimization, and objectivity of the analyst. Jay Forrester's systems dynamics modeling of companies, cities, and the world is an example. The power and success of this technical world view and its value in yielding remarkable insights and excellent predictions in science and engineering remains unchallenged. But, as the recent work in complexity science has underscored, it has serious limitations in dealing with complex, nonlinear, adaptive systems. Unfortunately, most realworld sociotechnical systems are of this kind.

The 0 perspective: The organizational perspective focuses on process rather than product, on action rather than problem-solving. The critical question is “does something need to be done?” and “who needs to do it?” rather than “what is the optimal solution”? Justice and fairness, bargaining and compromise, satisficing, incremental change, and routinization (SOPS) characterize this perspective. The P perspective: This views the world through the eyes of the individual. While cause and effect is a fundamental paradigm of the T perspective, challenge and response animates P. Each individual actor in a decision process has a unique set of patterns that inform his or her intuition. Characteristics of this perspective include learning, importance of the self, power and influence, leaders and followers, need for beliefs, creativity, charisma, and fear of change.

Applied to a given system, each perspective yields insights not attainable with the others. Together, T, 0, and P form what Churchman calls a Singerian inquiring system. “Cross-cuing” and integration of the perspectives must be done by the decision maker. An analogy is the American courtroom, where the jury considers various perspectives (witness testimonies) and even prototype integrations (by the prosecutor and defense attorney), but must undertake its own integration to arrive at a verdict. Furthermore, as any executive knows, science-based “replication” and “validation” are not meaningful concepts in this context.

The approach has been successfully applied to many complex systems, including risk management (Exxon Valdez, Bhopal), health care, corporate acquisition, and regional planning. At least a half dozen Ph.D. dissertations have used the approach. A fourth perspective type to represent religion/mythology (R), like T an artifact created by the human mind, has also been considered.

A summary of the key features:

1. T, 0, and P together form a superior basis for decision making than T alone. Each type offers insights not attainable with the others. The interaction among the perspectives contributes further important insights.

2. The choice of perspectives requires judgment; it is usually not possible to consider all perspectives. A good balance among the three types is always desirable, but there exists no “correct” weighting formula. In business the ability to choose and integrate perspectives that marks the effective executive.

3. 0 and P are case-specific. Obtaining input for 0 and P uses different processes than it does for T (for example, one-on-one interviews).

4. Perspectives are dynamic and change over time.

5. T usually dominates in the planning phase, 0 and P dominate in the decision and implementation phases.

P is often the key to effective communication.


1. H. A. Linstone, Multipte Perspectives for Decision Making, North-Holland, N.Y., 1984. Note: An updated, revised edition is expected to be published in 1999 by Ar-tech House.

2. H. A. Linstone with 1. 1. Mitroff, The Challenge of the 27st Century, State University of New York Press, Albany, NY, 1994.

3. H. A. Linstone, 'Multiple Perspectives: Concept, Applications, and User Guidelines”. Systems Practice 2(3), 1 989.

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methodology.txt · Last modified: 2020/07/27 15:38 (external edit)