The late Professor Stafford Beer bestrode
Management as a colossus.
In a series of ground breaking books culminating
in "Brain of the Firm", reprinted Wiley 1995, and
the companion volumes "Heart of Enterprise",
reprinted Wiley 1988, and "Diagnosing the System
for Organisations", reprinted Wiley 1991, he
produced models applicable to the problems of
structure, innovation, autonomy, participatory
development, accountability and even pain and
alerting in organisations. In the
neurophysiological Viable System Model (VSM) he
applied Homeostasis and Variety to neuroanatomy.
Thus he was able to distinguish Identity
maintaining Decisions, Development, Operational and
Regulatory management. This supported a strict
foundation for evolutionary control and founded
Within months of the publication of "Brain" Beer was propelled into
International public prominence with a commission to apply the model to Chile for the
newly elected President Salvador Allende. Management Cybernetics was applied to
Government. Sadly short-sighted American foreign policy turned an heroic project into tragedy.
But now as the "Steward of Accountability" America and the World is seeing that with cheap, reliable,
computing and telecommunications Beer's methods can bring Justice not only to Wall street but to the tribal and unaccountable for whom only terror seems a solution.
Early critics of Beer's work thought the
hierarchical structure of VSM, an imperative from
Set Theory, made it in some way authoritarian and
unable to adapt to a flatter more equal and
democratic management. Such critics failed to
recognise the need to make responsibility
unambiguous and that the levels of management in
VSM need not represent managers but management
policies applicable from short to long term.
In his later years, "Beyond Dispute" Wiley 1994,
Beer invented Team
Syntegrity. He found that the icosahedron
represented the largest structure that management
participants could occupy and retain the potential
for similar contexts and perspectives. He developed
it as a tool, amongst other things, to realise
The beginnings of a potential "Six Degrees of
Separation" or "Small World Phenomenon" process was described
by Joe Truss while friends and practitioners gathered
at the University of Hull for a Staffordian
Syntegration to discuss "What
should we do with Stafford's legacy/gift?" on
26th to 29th June 2003. One team,
for example, considered "Deploying Syntegration to
Resolve Conflict and Stop War". Dr. Allenna Leonard
recommended Stafford's paper "World in Torment" as an introduction.
More details of this memorable event.
The Metaphorum Society organised CybCon2004 "Cybernetics and Public Adminstration" in London
at St James's Park and LSE on September 3rd and 4th. See Leonie Solomons report for details.
Stafford Beer website is a commercial site
operated by John Moores University in Liverpool
which also houses Beer's library of 1,500 books and
a collection of papers and artefacts, including the
stochastic analogue machine (1956) and the
algedonic computer (to study learning systems- the
wood and brass machine in "Brain of the Firm").
There are several important papers for free
downloading, tapes for sale and a fascinating 221
of his books. A selection of poems and 25 .gifs of
his paintings can be seen.
Stafford's last address "What is Cybernetics?" on being awarded an
honorary degree from University of Valladolid in
Jon Walker's "The Viable Systems Model" is a guide for
co-operatives and federations with case studies. An
Professor Raul Espejo's Syncho
Consultancy designs organisational structures that
maximise the autonomy of team members whilst
ensuring the cohesion and direction the
organisation needs. Raul was Stafford's Chief
Scientist in Chile.
Robert Bittlestone's Metapraxis
Consultancy specialising in business diagnostics
and early warnings for multinational companies.
Stafford held Directorships in the early years of
both these firms.
Tony Gill's Phrontis
Consultancy applying VSM to management areas such
as business modelling and process management,
supply chain management, knowledge management, and
performance management and improvement.
Patrick Hoverstadt is a partner in Fractal.
A consultancy that applies VSM and Syntegration. He
has recently become a Principle Developer of a
toolset for the VSM. This is one focus of the
MetaPhorum Group, now with its own website formed as a result of the Staffordian
Integra Mangement Systems offer
a Consulting Methodology and Performance and Research Mangement
software tools. Dr John Bickford and his team developed their approach inspired
by Stafford's VSM. Clients include many household
tribute to a fellow poet from David Whittaker
given to the gathering of friends and colleagues at
the Royal Society of Arts mourning Stafford's
David has published a delighful memoir
based on their exchanges of letters tracking Stafford's travels and reading from 1981 to 1996. This is a unique and fascinating insight. Halfway through and we have Varela haranguing the Dalai Llama (HHDL, of course). Bouncing off Needham's massive ego; joy in Leibnitzian "Monadolgy" and a preference for "Physics as Metaphor" by Roger Jones rather than Capra's Tao. Oh how we miss him! But David brings him to life on these pages. A gourmet delight.
Lastly from Vanilla Beer, the painter, an
appreciation by Allenna Leonard of her father's life, work and
The above is only a small selection of work that
has appeared on the web.
There are more than 4,000 hits on Google at the
time of writing. Please advise Nick
Green if you have any new work, contracts, papers
criticisms or discussions of Stafford's work that
you would like us to include.
Stafford Beer was an Honorary Fellow of the Cybernetics Society
and died in Toronto on 23rd August 2002 surrounded by his large extended family of students and friends.