Is there anyone who is not aware of the need for effective organization? Anyone who wants to be quicker and more effective, but, in fact, is faced with more and more problems, may sometimes wonder if there might not be a formula that could be used to solve a lot of problems all at once. This link has brought you to our presentation of the methods and models developed by Prof. Dr. Stafford Beer, which will help you in this quest.
Effective functional structures
In developing his methods and models, Stafford Beer created "formulas" and forms of unrivalled effectiveness. He used the dependable rules of cybernetics to meet those demands of management that, generally speaking, all organizations and institutions have to meet.
One tool to deal with many different forms of the same basic problem
The most deep-rooted problem in all organizations is effective regulation, control and communication in living organisms and in the machine. The actual phenomena these processes produce and the problems they create show up in many different forms. This is what causes complexity. It is therefore always the same basic problem that has to be solved: regulation, control and communication. And that always calls for the same tool and the same approach: the use of the cybernetic laws of nature and due consideration for the findings of cybernetics.
A complex system has to be dealt with by means that are equally complex
One of the most important principles in this case
is Ross Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety. Basically, it says
that complexity can only be tackled with at least the same amount of
complexity. For this reason, Stafford Beer does not simplify reality
in the usual reductionist fashion in his models and methods. He does
the opposite: he looks at reality from a level that is high enough to
allow all the factors that operate in complex systems to be separated
out and presented in a form in which they are clearly recognizable and
comprehensible to anyone who is curious. The right way of dealing with
complexity is built into his models almost automatically.
Loops and networks - There is nothing that Beer leaves open!
The origin of instability, chaotic development
and seemingly insuperable complexity lies in the fact that, as a result
of their very nature, living and social systems have an open and dynamic
character. This problem can be solved by the operational or organizational
closure of such systems. What is required for this purpose is simply
an approach that sees and organizes processes as circular: the end of
a process is taken back to its beginning. The technical term for this
is recursivity. In this way, the natural loops become visible
or effective loops can be set up. Once all the processes in a system
have been closed on themselves or on one another, networks come into
being. These are typical of cybernetic models. The recursions represented
in them ensure that, in both the widest and narrowest sense of the term,
nothing has been "left open" in systems.
It was Heinz von Foerster who, in his publication
called Order from Noise, pointed out for the first time in 1960
that under certain circumstances order can arise from disorder by itself.
He demonstrated a typical, self-organizing pattern-formation to be found
in natural systems. The principle of self-organization that was
formulated in that publication is considered to be one of the most important
foundations of systemic management and naturally forms part of Stafford
Beer’s thinking. With his models and methods he brings about a
situation in which what can arise by itself is made possible without
intervention. The only sort of intervention that Stafford Beer does
not turn his back on is the introduction and stringent application of
Beer's models and methods look
similar to the human being ...
However, it was only from 1977 on that the phenomenon
of self-organizing patterns became familiar to the general public as
a result of Benoit Mandelbrot’s book. In The Fractal Geometry
of Nature, he describes how the structures of many natural entities
are formed from structures that are each time smaller and that resemble
the larger ones. The layman can see this self-likeness in, for
example, the crystalline shapes of snowflakes or in the structure of
ferns or cauliflower. The parts that are similar to the larger whole
are called fractals.
The principle of fractals is seen again in Stafford Beer’s models. However, he did not need to wait for Mandelbrot's chaos theory, which was not published until much later. It was a principle that the pioneers of cybernetics had long recognized.
One of the other disciplines that inspired Stafford Beer was bionics. This is the science that develops technical solutions by taking its cue from the intelligence of nature. The man Beer looked to for this was, above all, Buckminster R. Fuller.
The "building blocks" for the architecture of Stafford Beer's models and methods are the cybernetic laws of nature that, by observing the principles that they themselves lay down, he assembles into a whole. The outcome is that there is, once again, a self-likeness between his models and methods on the one hand and both human beings and the nature of the organizations that human beings have and use on the other; or, in other words, that the models and methods are appropriate for human beings. In the final analysis, it is human beings that form organizations and institutions.
Getting to the heart of things
In his models and methods, Stafford Beer represents the underlying pattern that there is to the natural and actual functional structures that organizations of every kind possess. His methods and models are few in number and together they too form a unit and hence an adequate basis for the analysis of organizations and for the design of effective ones. With Stafford Beer's methods and models, the user soon gets to the heart of things. This means that managers and their organizations become quicker, more flexible but at the same time more stable, better, more sustained and effective in the longer term.
Amazing speed and surprising unity
With his most recent method - Team SyntegrityŽ - it is, for example, possible to achieve in 3-4 days what other methods, if they can do it all, take years to accomplish but - more often than not - never can. It is far and away the quickest procedure for finding effective and lasting solutions to difficult problems in difficult situations, even with difficult people. When, to solve a difficult problem, a large number of key people have to be brought together whose points of view are not precisely known or are not understood but whose contribution is needed because, without their specialist knowledge and outlooks, the situation as a whole cannot be properly appraised, the most difficult part is achieving the widest possible consensus among all these people. However, the solution itself to the complicated problem would often not be so difficult if there were optimum communication and if all had the will to get things done. With Team SyntegrityŽ Stafford Beer ensured that people who progress independently of each other will together form an information network that will operate as quickly and as well as a single, healthy, highly intelligent human brain. The Team SyntegrityŽ procedure brings into being the phenomenon of properly functioning inter-human communication. It simply occurs and turns a large group of human beings of different opinions into a large group of highly effective managers oriented to the system.
A convincing picture
There is nothing more important than gaining a picture of the mechanisms at work in complex systems and making them intelligible at a glance to people generally. General Cybernetic Modelling is the method of showing the actual form that the cybernetics of a system takes. This entails the use of "flowcharts" drawn up on cybernetic principles. They are as it were "maps" of the actual effects that intentions, structures and processes have. They do away with the heaps of paper that it is all too easy to get buried in. The compact diagrams yield clarity with just a few words. Far greater conviction is obtained far more quickly with far less effort and expense.
The only survivors will be those who can handle complexity
How does my organization work and why? Could it work even better? Will it still be capable of existing in three years' time? Can it respond to changes quickly enough and in the right way? These are just some of the most important questions that managers have to ask themselves. With Stafford Beer's Viable System Model (VSM) clear answers can be obtained to these questions. The VSM demystifies as it were the mystery of how things function, it maps out the law of nature governing their functioning. Not only does this model look similar to the human organism; it also describes what it is that makes for the viability of living, social and cognitive systems. The essential conditions for viability and the ability to evolve are precisely defined. They can be applied not only to human beings and their organization but also, for example, to information systems such as computers, software, and organizational tools and actions.
There are five crucial functions that anyone or anything that can be considered viable has to perform in a very specific architecture of information loops. The architecture of the Viable System Model is made up of sub-systems of a fractal nature. In the forms in which these actually appear in organizations, however, they consist of things that everyone is familiar with. It is simply necessary merely to know to what features and patterns they all share attention has to be paid in order to find them and make use of them.