Taxonomia De Beer

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artiThe Viable System Model: Interpretations and Applications of Stafford Beer’ VSM s Edited by R. Esperjo and R. Harnden Published 1989 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd

The Viable System Model: its provenance, development, methodology and pathology*
Stafford Beer= President of the World Organization for Systems and Cybernetics

It took the author 30 years to develop the Viable System Model,which sets out to explain how systems are viable – that is, capable of independent existence. He wanted to elucidate the laws of viability in order to facilitate the management task, and did so in a stream of papers and three (of his ten) books. Much misunderstanding about the VSM and its use seems to exist; especially its methodological foundations have been largely forgotten, while its majorresults have hardly been noted. This paper reflects on the history, nature and present status of the VSM, without seeking once again to expound the model in detail or to demonstrate its validity. It does, however, provide a synopsis, present the methodology and confront some highly contentious issues about both the managerial and scientific paradigms.

At the end of my military service, Ispent a year from the autumn of 1947 to that of 1948 as an army psychologist running an experimental unit of 180 young soldiers (a moving population, 20 of them changing every (fortnight). All these men were illiterate, and all had been graded by a psychiatrist as psychopathological personalities. They could not write a letter home, nor read a newspaper, and such sums as 4 + 3 = ? often had themfooled. But they could debate with great energy and verbal facility if not felicity; they could play darts – ’ that’ 15 and a double 3 to go’ and they could state the winnings on a 21 s ; horse race involving place betting and accumulators with alacrity and accuracy, and apparently without working it out. they had their own conception of discipline, involving terrorism and violence in the barrackroom, which met every desideratum of a military unit in its ends, though not in its means.
*Reprinted by permission from the Journal of the Operational Research Society, vol. 35, 7-26. Copyright © 1984: Operational Research Society. =Visiting Professor of Cybernetics, Manchester University Business School; and Professor of Social System Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, the Wharton School. I had a background in philosophy first and psychology second; the latter school had emphasized the role of the brain in mentation and of quantitative approaches in methodology. The analytical models that I now developed, the hypotheses set up and tested, were thus essentially neurophysiological in structure and statistical operation. The behavioural models derived mainly from experience: I had abackground in the Gurkha Rifles too. What made these people, unusual as they were, tick – and be motivated and be adaptive and be happy too (for most of them were)? And how did the description of individuals carry over into the description of the whole unit, for it seemed so to do: every one of many visitors to this strange place found it quite extraordinary as an organic whole. It simply was notjust a unit housing a population of unusual soldiers. The first regimental sergeant major asked for a posting. This was the empirical start of the subsequent hypothesis that there might be invariances in the behaviour of individuals, whether they be ‘ normal’ or not, and that these invariances might inform also the peer group of individuals, and even the total societary unit to which they belong.In the early ‘ fifties this theme constantly emerged in my operational research work in the steel industry: I used then to refer to the structure of ‘ organic systems’ So the viable systems model (VSM) dates back 30 years. I pursued it . through neurocybernetics and social science, through the invention and study of cybernetic machines, through the mathematics of sets and stochastic processes,...
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