Organizational Cybernetics – Viability

Cybernetics is a trans-disciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems, their structures, constraints, and possibilities.

Cybernetics is relevant to the study of systems, such as mechanical, physical, biological, cognitive, and social systems. Cybernetics is applicable when a system being analyzed incorporates a feedback loop; that is, where action by the system generates some change in its environment and that change is reflected in that system in some manner (feedback) that triggers a system change, originally referred to as a “circular causal” relationship.

Cybernetics is a way of thinking that recognizes the ‘whole’ system exhibits emergent properties that are not to be found in its parts.  These emergent properties determine system potential, viability and resilience. 

Cybernetics as with the whole of the system tradition takes its starting point with the ‘input > transformation > output ‘ model. This reflects the idea that the system carries out some activity, the transformation and is open , i.e it imports ‘instructions’ (information) and acts upon those instructions (governed by management) to produce an output within the environment in which system is embedded.

Management cybernetics is the application of cybernetics to management and organizations. “Management cybernetics” was first introduced by Stafford Beer in the late 1950s. Beer developed the theory with respect to system viability using the Viable System Model framework.


Stafford Beer within the science of cybernetics which concerns itself how organizations maintain their identity, and fulfill their purpose within their environment.

Viable means capable of independent existence and implies both maintaining internal stability and adaptation to a changing environment. “Internal stability” and “adaptation” can be in conflict, particularly if the relevant environment is changing rapidly, so the viable system model (VSM) is about maintaining a balance between the two such that the system is able to survive.

The VSM is a model of the structures and functions that are both necessary and sufficient for the long term survival of a system in a changing environment. Allenna Leonard, Beer’s longtime partner, suggested that the most useful way to think about the VSM is as a language. The VSM is a language of viability. The VSM is a language for diagnosing organizations and managerial teams in terms of their viability or lack thereof. The VSM is also a language for designing organizations and managerial teams that will be viable.

According to Beer the following characteristics are essential for any social, economic , industrial management system to ensure viability:

  • The ability to grow (maximize potential)
  • The ability to renew
  • Ability to ensure robustness against internal breakdown and error
  • Ability to continuously adapt in a changing environment and ability to survive under unexpected conditions
  • The ability to learn from repeated  experience and ensure optimum response to the stimuli
  • The ability to maintain systemic equilibrium via multi communication connections with the environment

The Viable System Model (VSM) of Beer is an approach of Organizational Cybernetics that aims at the design and diagnosis of complex organization. By applying this approach weakness of structure , function, communication and interaction can be easily revealed and adaptation initiatives realized to maintain viability.   According to VSM organizational system shall have normative, strategic, auditing, coordinating,  operative management and alarming functions that operate and interact in order to maintain organizational viability.

For a viable system the following essential elements are necessary.

The Viable System Model (direction, coordination, validation) is used to describe service-relationships and to keep this service on track to the purpose and synchronized with the whole.



Implementation relates to primary activities, the activities responsible for producing the products or services towards the stated environment implied by the organization’s identity defined by normative management to ensure that it maximizes its value proposition and its stated objectives.


A viable system also has systems in place to co-ordinate the interfaces of its value-adding functions and the operations of its primary sub-units. In other words, co-ordination is necessary between the value-adding functions as well as between the embedded primary activities in order to optimize and achieve synergy, optimization and synchronization in order to maximize system potentiality and capability.



This is the channel from operational management through which resources are negotiated, direct line management instructions and goals are issued  and accountability reports flow upwards to keep the meta-level management in touch with events. The control function needs an assurance that the accountability reports it receives are indeed an accurate reflection of the status of primary activities by means of its validation services.



The Intelligence function management by the strategic management service  is the two-way link between the primary activity and its external environment. Intelligence is fundamental to adaptability;  provides the primary activity with continuous feedback on marketplace conditions, technology changes and all external factors that are likely to be relevant to it in the future; secondly, it projects the identity and message of the organization into its environment. The intelligence function is strongly future focused. It is concerned with planning the way ahead in the light of external environmental changes and internal organizational capabilities so that the organization can invent its own future (as opposed to being controlled by the environment), create new industry paradigm, elevate its potential, provide operations management guidance with respect to adaptation .


Policy making function  manged by the normative management service provides closure to the system as a whole.  The main roles of Policy are to provide clarity about the overall direction, values and purpose of the organizational unit; and to design, at the highest level, the conditions for organizational effectiveness.

Beer defines Cybernetics as the science of effective organization and treats not things but ways of behaving. The role of Management Cybernetics is to help the management (command and control ) understand :

  • How the system (organization) works or does not work
  • Why it works in a specific way
  • What to do about the system (organization) to influence the outcome in a way which is beneficial to the purpose being served

Organization cybernetics based on VSM model whereby ‘a good regulator of a system must be a model of the system which should possess a degree of variety or complexity in accordance with the system they trying to govern. This implies having necessary conditions for the system to be viable by means of key governance functions;

From Systemic Governance perceptive the system architecture blueprint shall consist of a governance model based on Viable System Model (VSM) framework which will used for governance efficacy and diagnosis associated to a system cockpit to enable that enable effective adaptation, viability, resilience and leverages potential .


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IT Transformation consultant specifically within SAP space with strong interest in System Thinking and Cybernetics Management.

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