Stafford Beer and Team Syntegrity

Every time we hear that a proposal will destroy society as we know it, we should have the courage to say: `Thank God; at last.’

Stafford Beer

(25 September 1926 - 23 August 2002)

Founder of management cybernetics; President, the World
Organization of Systems and Cybernetics (held their Norbert Wiener
Gold Medal).

Invented Team Syntegrity, an exploration
of icosahedral space for decentralized, efficient organization, and the
Viable System Model (VSM)
for organization modeling.

Proposed the idea of a Liberty Machine (aka Fuller’s “design science revolution,” in which I stated as long ago as 1994 that “copyleft” and “open source” publishing was a major step toward fulfilling).

The philosophy outlined in many of his books is that the
organizations in our society no longer work for human welfare but only
toward their own survival, and no amount of reform will change that — 
there’s a need to reorganize, to redefine our institutions, and to get
science back into the hands of the people — so that efficient
organizations can be made by the people, via technology.

Beer’s preferred, updated definition of Cybernetics: “the study of
effective organization.”

Biography:
href=”http://www.hfni.gsehd.gwu.edu/~asc/biographies/Beer/bio.html”>short

| medium |
long |
href=”http://www.lib.uwo.ca/business/beer.html”>with bibliography

Official site, with bibliography and other info in PDF files:
href=”http://www.staffordbeer.com/”>www.staffordbeer.com
[August
 2000]

Selected Annotated Bibliography

  • How Many Grapes Went Into The Wine: Stafford Beer on the Art
    and Science of Holistic Management
    [John Wiley & Sons, New
    York, 1994] [buy]

    Collection of Beer’s papers on systems thinking, from late 1950s to
    early 1990s.

  • Beyond Dispute: the Invention of Team Syntegrity
    [John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1994] [amazon]
    The
    Organization in Crisis
    ” (from the cover of the book) [buy it]

    More notes on Team Syntegrity

  • Diagnosing The System for Organizations [John Wiley &
    Sons, New York, 1985] [amazon]
  • Autopoiesis: The Organization of the Living,” preface to
    Autopoiesis and Cognition by Maturana and Varela [Boston
    Philosophy of Science series Vol. 40, 1980., pp. 63-72] [
    href=”http://www.cogsci.ed.ac.uk/~jwjhix/Beer.html”>full text
    ]
  • The Heart of Enterprise [John Wiley and Sons 1979], a
    companion volume to Brain of the Firm
  • Brain of the Firm: A Development in Management
    Cybernetics
    [Herder and Herder 1972] [reprinted John Wiley and
    Sons, 1979] [2nd ed., John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1981]

    Absolutum obsoletum.

    (If it works, it’s out of date.)

  • Platform For Change: A Message from Stafford Beer
    [John Wiley and Sons 1975; Corrected Reprint 1978] [amazon]

    A book about metalanguage, printed on multiple colored paper where
    the text for each color concerns one aspect of the book’s message, and
    is written in a particular style (one of the styles is the poetic
    diction that appears in many of Fuller’s books of the period).

    [buy it]

    He suggests that humankind is moving from the management of
    physical objects (as “homo faber”) to managing complexity itself — 
    and proposes a new term for this new man: “homo gubernator”

    Money-as-metric-of-wealth is obsolete and must be replaced.

    Introduces the idea of a Liberty Machine, a
    system whose output is liberty. If “information” is defined as “that
    which changes us,” a redefinition of “liberty” for the information era
    can be thus: “competent information is free to act.” It’s on this
    principle of liberty that a Liberty Machine should be designed.

    (I say that a core component of this Liberty Machine is
    href=”/copyleft/”>generalized, strong copyleft
    )

  • Designing Freedom [Garden City Press 1974] [amazon]

    Transcription of a series of radio lectures on the cybernetic
    redesign of society for the purpose of human liberty. A must
     read
    !

    I believe that the society of conspicuous consumption is proving to be
    the most alienating force the world has ever known.”

    Science, as used in this consumptive society, is being used to
    “destroy man — in his humanity and in his joy of living.” Science
    must go indie.
    It must be controlled by the people, and not
    corporations. [One example: the Debian
     Project
    ]

    Invisible power structures are part of the environment. These
    institutions are systems, and were set up ages ago to handle a
    now-outdated amount of variety (the number of possible states
    of a system); the systems must now be redesigned:

    I am proposing simply that society should use its tools to
    redesign its institutions, and to operate those institutions
    quite differently.”

    The main tools to do this, says Beer, are “the electronic computer,
    telecommunications, and the techniques of cybernetics. …”

    The role of government is to be a “liberty
     machine
    .”

  • Decision and Control, The Meaning of Operational Research
    and Management Cybernetics
    [John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1966] [amazon]
  • Machines that Control Machines,” Science Journal,
    October 1968
  • Cybernetics and Management [English U. Press, London
     1959]


Team Syntegrity

diy-icosahedron-20001114

In the 1990s, Beer invented Team Syntegrity, where the shape of a
polyhedra (namely, an icosahedron) is used as the democratic
non-hierarchical structure of organization for the purposes of group
facilitation. Each member is a vertex on the icosahedron, and feedback
from their input and decisions reverberates around the entire
structure. The facilitation or problem-solving process using this
model is called a “syntegration.”

Its essentially a cybernetic application of
href=”http://www.rwgrayprojects.com/synergetics/synergetics.html”>synergetic
 geometry
.

-Overview of the
 process

-
href=”http://web.archive.org/web/20000603195341/http://www.sunderland.ac.uk/~cs0ceed/syn.html”>Technical
outline of the process, with glossary

-Beer’s “Introductory Chapter on Syntegration” [
 href=”http://fp.staffordbeer.f9.co.uk/papers/Origins%20Team%20Syntegrity.pdf”>PDF
]

-Phrontis Ltd. is a consultancy
company for facilitating Syntegrations. Team Syntegrity Inc. (TSI) is
Beer’s firm through which Team Syntegrity licenses and certification
are granted [Web site coming]

Related info:


Also available: Stafford Beer: A Personal Memoir - Includes an Interview with Brian Eno by David Whittaker (Wavestone 2003)

Other links

It’s the Beer Talking” (an excerpt of Beer’s lecture celebrating his 70th birthday)

The forgotten story of Chile’s ‘socialist internet’,” a 2003 story in the Guardian by Andy Beckett.

Overview of a course Beer taught in the UK

Anarchism and the Cybernetics of Self-Organising Systems

A collection of Beer’s papers in Adobe PDF format

[Based on archival copy marked “$Revision: 1.10 $”]

First published on January 11th, 2009 at 10:08 pm (EST) and last modified on June 9th, 2010 at 3:27 pm (EST).