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.”


| medi­um |
long |
href=“”>with bib­li­og­ra­phy

Offi­cial site, with bib­li­og­ra­phy and oth­er info in PDF files:


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] [[amazonify]0471942960::text::::buy[/amazonify]]

    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]
    Orga­ni­za­tion in Cri­sis
    ” (from the cov­er of the book) [[amazonify]0471944513::text::::buy it[/amazonify]]

    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=“”>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
    [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).

    [[amazonify]0471061891::text::::buy it[/amazonify]]

    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

    “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

    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

  • 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

Team Syntegrity


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

-Overview of the

out­line of the process, with glos­sary

-Beer’s “Intro­ductory Chap­ter on Syn­te­gra­tion” [

-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:

  • Tran­scend­ing
    Dual­i­ty through Ten­sion­al Integri­ty
    ” by Antho­ny Judge (1978)
    (also see “
    Imple­ment­ing Prin­ci­ples by Bal­anc­ing Con­fig­u­ra­tions of Func­tions: A
    Tenseg­ri­ty Orga­ni­za­tion Approach
  • Mark Sieg­mund is inter­est­ed in tetra­he­dral orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­ture
    [intro arti­cle]:

    While Fuller nev­er explic­it­ly nom­i­nat­ed or dis­cussed the con­cep­tu­al tetra­he­dron as an
    orga­ni­za­tion­al frame­work and infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing cir­cuit, his work is replete with clues
    and infer­ence about it–which led me to begin devel­op­ing, think­ing about and con­sid­er­ing
    the tetra­he­dron as a mod­el for orga­ni­za­tion, strate­gic think­ing and plan­ning, and,
    infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing…

  • Curt McNa­ma­ra’s “” on mod­els of thought.

Also avail­able: [amazonify]0954519418::text::::Stafford Beer: A Per­son­al Mem­oir — Includes an Inter­view with Bri­an Eno[/amazonify] 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).

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