This paper only aims at stimulating research and debate, starting from two ideas: • historically, cost control systems have undergone major changes by integrating an increasing level of instability; • the same pattern of evolution can be found in other areas. Evolutions seem to have gone through four stages: 1. A static period. Individuals think in terms of a stable environment in which there is only one truth. Problems are solved through an analytical approach. 2. A period of static balance. Although there is some movement, unchanging laws prevail. The environment is a deterministic one in which the future is modelled on the past. The only systems that can be conceived are closed , dependent ones. 3. A period of dynamic balance. Some change is introduced in the laws regulating trends. The environment may thus be transformed and tentatively brought under control. Systems tend to become open ended and adaptable. 4. A period when the probabilistic order of confusion prevails. Although the movement has become widespread, it cannot be foreseen in detail. However, major events are somehow predictable according to statistical laws. Overall transformations remain undetermined. Systems improve and become more effective by constant updating and upgrading. Those four stages have been observed in five different fields: • cost control systems in organisations • the history of economic theory • natural sciences • information technology • philosophy. This evolution of course did not affect the five fields in the same manner or at the same pace. It is however important to note that the stages are identical whatever the field i.e. that changes in thinking patterns shifted from one stage to another.
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