The cyberneticist

Prof. D.Sc. Stafford Beer was born in London
When he was not traveling, he lived in Toronto and South Wales

The science of effective organization

Taking the work of Norbert Wiener as his point of departure, Stafford Beer defined cybernetics in a clear and striking way as the "science of effective organization". As well as Norbert Wiener's mathematical work on cybernetics, the work above all of the neurocyberneticist Warren McCulloch and the psychiatrist Ross Ashby exerted a major influence on him.

With his practical experience, Stafford Beer's cybernetic thinking allowed him to understand the problems and the potential of real organizations just as well as those of virtual ones. He views the special and routine questions of management from the practical perspective of management just as much as he does from that of information science. He makes use of his broadly-based understanding of the fundamentals of both these areas of application and also of their often unexploited potential to shape them effectively and to put them to work to good effect.

That he understood real organizations just as well as the way in which they could be transferred to computerized applications can best be seen from the crowning achievement of his work. In his "Viable System Model", Beer maps out the architecture of the looped flows of information that are required for the five crucial functions in the management of all systems that are viable or capable of evolving. This architecture applies to all viable forms of life in the animal realm, to the plant world and to human beings, and it also applies to organizations created by human beings and to certain inanimate systems, such as certain configurations of computers and software.

His Viable System Model represents the concentrated essence of cybernetic knowledge relating to the science of effective organization. Following the architecture and mode of operation of neuronal networks that nature had laid down and the more abstract mathematical model of the icosahedron, Beer created the fastest possible method of communication, and one that would have lasting effectiveness, for a large number of people who have to solve a problem together: "Team SyntegrityŽ". This method of communication for large heterogeneous groups is organized on strictly cybernetic principles and is a distillate of the crucial knowledge that cybernetics provides about the transfer of information and the phenomenon of cognition.

Every single one of the many milestones in the story of his life was important to the development of his work. A better way of understanding his work is to consider it in conjunction with his biography. Each section of the Curriculum Vitae he himself wrote would in itself provide enough material for an evening-long film. It is available as a PDF file (4 pages) for you to download and print out, perhaps as reading matter for a time when you want to find inspiration in an account, told in keywords and brief narrative sections, of a closely focused life that crossed boundaries.


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