Oganizational Cybernetics

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. 

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

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.

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.

From Systemic Transformation perceptive within Context framework the Viable System Model (VSM) methodology will used used define, diagnose a connected system that ensures  viability, resilience and leverages potential .

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) is an approach of Organizational Cybernetics that aims 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.