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This page last updated 25th. March 2005


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The Cybernetics of Managerial Cybernetics Practice

Special Guest: Allenna Leonard

The 7th Workshop in Sharing Practice will be a One Day Workshop with a 10am start on April 15th 2005.

room G.02

John Foster Building

John Moores University

98 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool

Thanks to the School of Business Information food and refreshments will be provided throughout the day

Those attending please let Doug Haynes know by 8th April

Cybernetics-North: Provenance and Purpose

Cybernetics-North (C-N) was conceived by a group of friends during a meeting at JMU on February 14th 2003. We realised that a significant number of practitioners were located in the north of England and could benefit from a local network. C-N was created legally a short time later as a non-profit making enterprise with aims to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and experience of systems thinking and managerial cybernetics practice.

Its core members take a practitioner view of practice, education and research; gathering together and disseminating relevant knowledge and experience of theory, resources and tools to improve potentiality, capability and actuality.

Its ethos is to be an open and inclusive venture for networking and supporting individuals and the wider community in promoting well-being.

We see the focus of this community of practice to be complementary to other professional and academic societies and networks.

Aims & Scope of this workshop

This workshop aims to gathering together relevant knowledge and experience of practitioner issues and to disseminate the results in various ways. We shall video the workshop and copies will be available on DVD at a later date. Any backlog of issues will be discussed in future workshops and disseminated as appropriate.

A number of fundamental questions about practitioner activity were raised during our formative meetings and additional questions have surfaced in the following workshops and informal discussions. These questions and issues will be discussed during the workshop. The current set has been clustered and listed at the end of this document.

Whether you are able to attend or not, please e-mail before 15th April any additional questions and issues about practice that you would like to be discussed; although we will also take extra issues as they arise on the day.

It is expected that unpublished anecdotes and material will be produced in this workshop giving opportunities for the development of new research directions and publications.

Workshop Overview

The workshop will start with a brief presentation of an initial model of cybernetic practice that could be used to provide the context and connections for issues to be discussed during the day. It will include alternative approaches to practice that were identified by Helen Harrison and reported in her MPhil thesis ‘Factors Required for an Effective Approach to Enterprise Survival’. Notes on these approaches will be circulated before the workshop to assist participants to prepare their thoughts and inputs to the programme. We would expect that this model would be enhanced and developed during the workshop to reflect participant’s experiences.

The next session will feature an in-depth exploration of Stafford’s approach to managerial cybernetics practice in the pursuit of viability in government and large enterprises. This will be informed by Allenna’s experience and Denis’s analysis of documents in the Stafford Beer Collection at JMU.

This will be followed by a session on capturing experiences of other practitioner approaches from participants.

After lunch, the remainder of the workshop will be devoted to discussion of the questions and issues previously raised. On some aspects of practice, it may be interesting to capture a profile of participants activity.

Workshop Programme

10.00 Arrival at G.02 and refreshment

10.15 A cybernetic model of cybernetic practice Allenna and Denis

10.45 Stafford’s "methodology for the evolution of a management cybernetics process" Allenna and Denis

12.00 Approaches to practice used by workshop participants.

13.00 Agree on how we organise discussion of the questions and issues previously raised; followed by Lunch

13.30 Discussion of practice questions and issues

16.00 Action Plan any follow-up activity

16.30 Close and "Later in the Bar"

Some background information:

Stafford Beer's approach to helping large enterprises

It took me a few attempts to clarify with Stafford what aspects of his "consultancy" experience was missing from his publications. The word "consultancy" is in quotes because consultancy is only one mode of helping others and can be defined as providing solutions to client's problems.

In managerial cybernetics practice in large enterprises, he didn’t always operate as a consultant. He often accepted these assignments on the basis that he would not produce reports with recommended actions and solutions; he would, in contrast, provide inputs to client discussions together with any new concepts and language (and new terminology!) that would allow them to organise their knowledge and information systems to reach their own conclusions and solutions.

Anyway, the missing unpublished part was really about the craft of helping others; "consultancy" craft. He always ended these discussions with me by saying that "all experienced consultants know about that. There is no need for me to write all that stuff down".

During a recent car journey, Patrick Hoverstadt concurred with this by pointing out that even if you added descriptions of the consulting craft to the existing literature, the reader still wouldn’t get it if they hadn’t had significant experience of consulting practice.

There is a need to raise the issue of the practitioners' craft. Many newcomers to the subject assume that the power of the tools alone will carry them through an assignment but cannot get past first base because they do not address fully the underlying systems and dynamics within the big picture – before they start.

Stafford took the opposite approach and used cybernetic modelling of the big picture from the very start as well as using his imaginative craft skills and his extensive experience of human affairs to anticipate and deal with the continuing dynamics of the situation.

Some of this is directly addressed in Heart of Enterprise in part 4, particularly note one 'on success'. Stafford's account of his assignment with a Canadian insurance company in note five "The evolution of a management cybernetics process", is mirrored in several other major assignments as detailed in documents in the collection at JMU.

This part of HoE is worth another read before the workshop, particularly in terms of handling "big systems", although Allenna and I will deal with the major points covered there as well as additional detail of Stafford’s modus operandi.

Questions and issues previously noted (organisation to be agreed on day) :

Types of practitioner service

Coaching, mentoring, facilitating, consulting.

Socratic symposium.

Designing delivery methodology

Disclosure/Non-disclosure of MC to client.

Consulting methodologies; you have to start with the "what" and the "how", then people get into the "why" later.

Where is John Beckford’s robust consulting methodologies published?

How do you deal with the fragmented and inadequate models being used by clients?

Clients experience pain but they don’t know why or what is causing it.

You cannot get clients there in one jump.

People need to see wrong solutions (failure?) to admit that there is a problem.

Mosaic transformation and change management.

Technical skills; applying MC concepts and VS modelling

Anecdotal and case studies demonstrating unpublished virtuosity in using MC tools and models in design, diagnosing, re-designing and change.

A taxonomy for matching types of situation and use of MC tools; for example, radical change (as in reinventing a UK national healthcare system), the design of a new enterprise, diagnosis and prognosis of existing enterprises.

MC Education

The best way of learning is having conversations.

Want to see MC as a recognised educational discipline.

Learning, transferring & coaching VS ideas and the VSM.

Approaches and issues in learning, transferring & coaching VS ideas and the VSM; in practice for small and large groups

Develop and release the experience contained in the SB collection at JMU.

Reflective practitioner.

Achieve Professional Status

MC as a Professional Discipline

Develop a professional.

Use of a craft model.

Register of MC practitioners who can provide evidence of practice.

Need for a QA system for accrediting practitioner activity.

Facilitating the wider use of these tools

What is the tool set? Basic concepts and tools as well as ‘assembled’ models.

Updated version of cyberfilter?

Increase awareness of MC and science of organisation.

Identify and evaluate amplifiers.

Report more applications and costs and benefits.

Need to recognise the beneficial differences that make immediate (intuitive?) sense. Barriers to useage.

Why haven’t these tools been taken up more.

Minimum necessary and sufficient conditions for new user.

Structural change challenges the power structure.

How to deal with shortening cycle times of changing power structures.

Do executives need to see that they cannot control the whole thing before they consider alternative structures.

Organisational pathologies.

Some executives assume that others run the show.

But executives of SMEs are anxious that work gets done properly and are interested in anything that facilitates that.

Language is a barrier.

Languaging MC and people’s ability to relate VSM to their activity; need to use social language, basic consulting skill.

Developing a community of practice; network management.

Levels of membership; local and global. Communication channels.

We are not dealing with a recognised practice and language.

Evidence of the power of MC

Sense-making, diagnostic, prognostic (pathological archetypes), effective change (including mosaic transformation).

Exploration of the scale of system for use of the VSM; whole enterprise, sub-system (using VSM as a general model for managing anything), programme, project management.

Comparison of features of MC, systems approach and other management practices (such as 6 Sigma, BPR, BSC. TQM) against criteria like the ability to accommodate dynamics, uncertainty, complexity, unknown.

Contributions to management issues of the age; Governance, risk, etc.

Systems thinking and MC does things that other approaches will not do.

Publishing & Disseminating MC Applications

Report more applications.

Quality of publications; a significant proportion of ‘cybernetics’ authors do not understand cybernetics.

Electronic journal with the 7 C-N practitioner values for managing publication quality.

Develop use of the C-N web site; link web-sites.

Use of Blogs?

Need for an airport book?

Aiming tools and material at the right people.

Demonstrate MC solutions to popular inadequate management tools; BSC, dashboards etc. by engaging with other communities of practice.

Desire to make MC tools the mainstream management tools.

Systems terms are being used without understanding.

Denis Adams

24th March 2005

Cybernetics North