Derek Hitchins

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Derek K. Hitchins (born 1935) is a British systems engineer and was professor in engineering management, in command & control and in systems science at Cranfield University at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England.


  • System engineering is the art and science of creating effective systems, using whole system, whole life principles.
    • Derek Hitchins (1995) cited in: Herbert Negele (2000) Systems engineering--a key to competitive advantage for all industries. p,166
  • A system is an open set of complementary, interacting parts, with properties, capabilities and behaviours of the set emerging both from the parts and from their interactions to synthesize a unified whole.
    • Hitchins (1998. p. 195) cited in: Peter Stasinopoulos (2009) Whole System Design: An Integrated Approach to Sustainable Engineering. p. 27
  • The Holy Grail of systems engineering, a generic systems methodology has been the subject of the author’s ongoing research for over 20 years.
  • The real world is made from open, interacting systems, behaving chaotically.
    • D.K. Hitchins (2000) World Class Systems Engineering - the five layer Model; cited in: Neville A. Stanton, Chris Baber, Don Harris (2012) Modelling Command and Control. p. 8
  • The world about us can be looked at in a variety of ways. One way is to see the world as made up from many interacting systems: weather, societal, economic, ecological, floral, faunal, tectonic plate, oceanic, and so on. This is very much a connected view of the world: nothing is isolated and totally independent; everything is part of something bigger, and everything comprises many interacting parts — subsystems.

Putting systems to work (1992)[edit]

Derek K. Hitchins (1992) Putting systems to work

  • There seem to be two fundamental schisms in thinking: the hard/soft and the open/closed.
    • p. 6
  • Hard systems viewpoints are basically those held by designers and engineers who are trying to create systems to meet an understood need in an effective and economic manner. Those in the soft camp caricature the approach as head-down, concerned with optimization, obsessed with quantitative metrics and highly pragmatic. So much so, in fact, that the term system thinking has been purloined by the soft camp as though they alone thought! The soft camp use the term engineer’s philosophy, not too endearingly, to describe the hard approach, in which the requirement is stated by a customer and the engineer satisfies the requirement without question.
    • p. 6; as cited in: Stuart Anderson (2006) "Heterogeneous Modelling of Evolution for Socio-technical Systems"
  • Soft systems viewpoints are those held by behavioural, management, social anthropology, social psychology and other science students concerned with observing the living world, and in particular the human world. Human activity systems (HASs) are messy, in that they do not exhibit a clear need or purpose - if they can be said to exhibit purpose at all. Indeed, so complex is the real world of people that the idea of driving towards optimal solutions may be a non-starter - perhaps we should see if we can simply understand and concern ourselves with improving the situation.
    • p. 7; as cited in: Stuart Anderson (2006)
  • For continued system cohesion, the mean rate of system adaptation must equal or exceed the mean rate of change of environment.
    • p. 63 Cited in: Lars Skyttner (2005) General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice. p. 103

Advanced Systems Thinking, Engineering and Management (2003)[edit]

Derek Hitchins (2003) Advanced Systems Thinking, Engineering and Management

  • Emergence is the phenomenon of properties, capabilities and behaviours evident in the whole system that are not exclusively ascribable to any of its parts. Classic examples of emergence include: self awareness from the human brain; the pungent smell of ammonia emerging from two colorless, odorless gases-nitrogen and hydrogen; and so on.
    • p. 24
  • Emergence is not really mysterious, although it may be complex. Emergence is brought about by the interactions between the parts of a system. The galloping horse illusion depends upon the persistence of the human retina/brain combination, for instance. Elemental gases bond in combination by sharing outer electrons, thereby altering the appearance and behavior of the combination. In every case of emergence, the source is interaction between the parts — sometimes, as with the brain, very many parts — so that the phenomenon defies simple explanation.
    • p. 25
  • The motives for conceiving modern systems engineering are to be found, at least in part, in past disasters. Arthur D. Hall III [1989] cites: the chemical plant leakage in Bhopal (1986); the explosion of the NASA Challenger space shuttle (1986) and the Apollo fire (1967); the sinking of the Titanic (1912); the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl (1986) and the disaster at Three Mile Island power plant (1979). He cites, too, the capture of markets by Japan from the U.S., the decline in US productivity and the failure of the US secondary school system. He identifies the millions of people dying of starvation every year while other nations stockpile surplus food, medical disasters such as heart disease, while governments subsidize grains used to produce high cholesterol meat, milk and eggs; and many more. One implication is clear: systems engineering faces challenges well beyond the sphere of engineering.
    • p. 75-76
  • “The term (system-of-systems) is being applied to the creation of new systems by bringing together existing operational systems under a single umbrella and, presumably, creating or adapting links and interactions between the operational systems, which become subsystems of the higher level umbrella system.”
  • Architecture is defined as the art and science of creating buildings. Systems engineering may be similarly defined as the art and science of creating systems.
    • p. 309; partly cited in: Kurt A. Richardson, Wendy J. Gregory, Gerald Midgley (2006) Systems Thinking and Complexity Science. p. 39

Quotes about Derek Hitchins[edit]

  • Derek Hitchins has had several careers. He served as an engineer officer in the RAF for 22 years, retiring as a wing commander. He worked in industry for some 17 years, variously as systems design manager, future projects manager, technical director, marketing director and business development director for systems companies.
    For five years, he taught integrated science and physics (plus singing and trampoline) in a grammar school. And he was a university professor for seven years, before being obliged to retire from full time academia on health grounds. Presently: author, consultant and occasional lecturer on systems, systems thinking, chaos and systems engineering – contemporary and ancient.

External links[edit]

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