The pioneering work of Stafford Beer

Amongst other things, it was his application of cybernetics to organizations of all kinds and to their management that led to his three greatest achievements:

He described the nature that all natural organizations and organizations created by human beings in principal share, the shared nature of their complexity, of the consequences this has, and of how the organizations should logically be managed.

He thus reformed the existing theory of organization and management and in so doing established a supra-disciplinary and supra-sectoral language and way of looking at things suitable for the universally needed, shared understanding of organizations, companies, institutions and their management

He thus described the natural laws governing the viability of biological and social systems: from the micro-organism to the human being, from small and large partnerships and their institutions - from marriage and the family to the social institutions set up by communities, from the single company to the corporate group, from the small association to public and political systems, to the whole of human society.

Recognizing, understanding and using the unity that
there is in diversity

Cybernetics is a universal transdisciplinary science. Norbert Wiener, the most significant among the founding fathers of cybernetics, recognized in the mid-forties that the phenomena of regulation/control and communication occur in all real systems in both animate and inanimate nature. He was a mathematician of genius and taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With the help of mathematics, he managed to give the patterns and laws of regulation/control and communication an abstract formulation to an extent that allowed their essential nature to be viewed as a coherent whole. Mathematics is the best way of doing this but it is easy to be misled by it into classifying cybernetics as one of the formal sciences. What cybernetics is in fact concerned with is reality. It is an empirical science and deals with

questions relating to the creation, maintenance and alteration of order,

questions relating to communication and, as a logical consequence,

questions of cognition and evolution and, in the end,

questions of how to deal with complexity correctly.

If cybernetics is applied to the problems of existing areas of nature and society and of those yet to be created, the two phenomena of regulation/control and communication prove to be of universal occurrence in all systems in these areas. Cybernetics is therefore not a universal science in the sense of claiming, as it were, "omniscience". It can, however, be applied to a plethora of problems that would otherwise be regarded as unrelated but should in fact be seen as manifestations of the same basic problem. In other words, cybernetics only intervenes in other specialized fields when the two factors of regulation/control and communication are involved.

The specific field of application known as "neurocybernetics", for example, performs the function of an interface between cybernetics and the neurosciences, namely biophysics, biochemistry, biology, anatomy and physiology. Where cybernetics finds its specific application in engineering is between itself and the knowledge that is needed from the engineering sciences. Management cybernetics is the application of cybernetics specifically to any kind of organization. Management cybernetics does not take the place of a knowledge of, say, sociology, business administration, economics, law or management psychology; all it does is provide a sufficiently wide understanding of organizations or, in other words, allows them to be viewed in a genuinely holistic manner.

Stafford Beer took from cybernetics a knowledge of the working patterns and laws that apply to regulation/control and communication and applied it to the real, actual, practical challenges placed by creating order in organizations and in communication. On this basis, he described concrete concepts, methods and models that can be applied in any specialized field or area of management to questions of effective organization.

The laws of cybernetics, and particularly management cybernetics, and its way of looking at things, are principles that bind the different specialized fields together. They help to allow use to be made of the connections between different fields that actually exist or are possible, and to allow the cognitive limitations that arise as a result of specialization to be overcome.

It is true that the application of management cybernetics requires thorough study but it does not require any unusual pre-existing qualifications or abilities. It can be learnt by anyone who can be employed as a manager. The difference is that, unlike other disciplines, what is looked at is not all the things that are different in one discipline from other disciplines but the things that all disciplines have in common.

His position in society
The search for the pattern that organizations of all types share shaped Stafford Beer's life and, in turn, his life shaped this search and its success. He was a holder of what is known as the "Freedom of the City of London ", an honorary title bestowed by the City of London, which has also been awarded to, for example, Nelson Mandela. Even though Stafford Beer led a very retiring life, he was, among many other things, also a leading member of the following international scientific bodies:

President of the World Organization of Systems and Cybernetics

Past President of the International Society for the Systems Sciences

Past President of the Operational Research Society

Governor of the International Council for Computer Communication

Honorary Fellow of the International Institute for Social Invention

Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science


More about Stafford Beer
The life of Stafford Beer is a thriller woven round the scientific, economic and social history of the 20th century. Under Beer - the cyberneticist you will find the authentic story of his life. If you click on this Video short you will see and hear a brief extract featuring Stafford Beer from one of the BBC's series of Open University broadcasts dating from 1971. Under Beer - the author you will find full details of his writings and under Methods, models we present a short account of his work together with details of where more information is to be found. The Publications link will take you to an overview of books by the two management cyberneticists Beer and Malik. Beer - the poet and Beer - the painter will allow you to see a little of the artistic sides of this pioneer.

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