Anthony Stafford Beer

Anthony Stafford Beer

Anthony Stafford Beer (September 25, 1926 - August 23, 2002) was a British theorist, consultant and professor at the Manchester Business School. He is best known for his work in the fields of operational research and management cybernetics.


Beer was born in London. He started a degree in philosophy at University College London, but left in 1944 to join the army. He saw service in India and stayed there until 1947. In 1949, he was demobilized, having reached the rank of captain.

He joined United Steel and persuaded the management to found an operational research group, the Department of Operations Research and Cybernetics, which he headed. In 1961 he left United Steel to start an operational research consultancy in partnership with Roger Eddison called SIGMA (Science in General Management).

Beer left SIGMA in 1966 to work for a SIGMA client, the International Publishing Corporation (IPC). He was appointed development director at IPC and pushed for the adoption of new computer technologies. Beer left IPC in 1970 to work as an independent consultant, focusing on his growing interest in social systems.

In 1970 Beer was approached by Salvador Allende's elected socialist government of Chile to develop a national real-time computerised system Cybersyn to run the entire Chilean economy. This project was never completed. When Allende was removed from power by General Augusto Pinochet's 1973 coup, the Cybersyn project was abandoned. Beer continued to work in the Americas, consulting for the governments of Mexico, Uruguay and Venezuela.

In the mid 1970s, Beer renounced material possessions and moved to mid-Wales where he lived in an almost austere style, developing strong interests in poetry and art.

In the 1980s he established a second home on the west side of downtown Toronto and lived part of the year in both residences. Beer kept active with work in his field

Beer was a visiting professor at almost thirty universities and received honorary doctorates from the University of Leeds, the University of St. Gallen, the University of Sunderland and the University of Valladolid.

Beer was president of the World Organization of Systems and Cybernetics. He received awards from the Royal Swedish Academy for Engineering Sciences in 1958, from the United Kingdom Systems Society, the Cybernetics Society, the American Society for Cybernetics, and the Operations Research Society of America.

He was married twice, in 1947 to Cynthia Hannaway and in 1968 to Sallie Steadman. His partner for the last twenty years of his life was Dr Allenna Leonard, a fellow cybernetician. Beer had five sons and three daughters, one of whom is Vanilla Beer, an artist and essayist. [ [ Vanilla Beer] exhibited with Roger Kohn [ "Prenez, Mangez et Vivez"] (Peacock University Press, 2006)See also Simon Beer [] and Mark Beer [] ]


Stafford Beer worked in the fields of operational research, cybernetics and management science. He had become aware of operational research while in the army and he was quick to identify the advantages it could bring to business.

Late 1950s he published his first book about cybernetics and management, building on the ideas of Norbert Wiener, Warren McCulloch and especially William Ross Ashby for a systems approach to the management of organisations.

In the 1970s he also wrote a series of books (the last three focussing upon his own Viable System Model for organisation modeling):

In the 1990s he published one of his last books about Team Syntegrity: a formal model, built on the polyhedra idea of systems for non-hierarchical problem solving.

Management cybernetics

Beer was the first to apply cybernetics to management, defining management as the "science of effective organization". Throughout the 1960s Beer was a prolific writer and an influential practitioner in management cybernetics. It was during that period that he developed the viable system model, to diagnose the faults in any existing organizational system. In that time Forrester invented systems dynamics, which held out the promise that the behavior of whole systems could be represented and understood through modeling the dynamical feedback process going on within them. Michael C. Jackson (2000), "Systems Approaches to Management", 465 p.]

Management cybernetics is the application of cybernetic laws to all types of organizations and institutions created by human beings, and to the interactions within them and between them. It is a theory based on natural laws. It addresses the issues that every individual who wants to influence an organization in any way must learn to resolve. This theory is not restricted to the actions of top managers. Every member of an organization and every person who to a greater or lesser extent communicates or interacts with it is involved in the considerations.


During the administration of Salvador Allende in Chile, in the early 1970s, a visionary project about the use of information and communications in government was undertaken by Stafford Beer. The project was called Cybersyn, and contemplated the transmission of information in real-time to support the management of the country’s industrial economy. At its core was an Operations Room constantly receiving and displaying information and transmitting decisions. Raul Espejo, [ Cybersyn] , retrieved Oct 2007.]

A network of about 500 telex machines linking the country from north to south supported all this. A single computer center in Santiago controlled them, using principles of cybernetics. Its futurist design offered the hope of a more participative and less bureaucratic society. The project had the participation of a multidisciplinary group of national and international scientists. Their task was to build a system for distributed decision-making supported by relevant information. But their efforts were interrupted by the coup d'état of 1973.

Viable System Model

thumb|right|240px|Principle_functions_of_the_Viable System Model, 1975.] The Viable System Model (VSM) is a model of the organisational structure of any viable or autonomous system. A viable system is any system organised in such a way as to meet the demands of surviving in the changing environment. One of the prime features of systems that survive is that they are adaptable. The VSM expresses a model for a viable system, which is an abstracted cybernetic description that is applicable to any organisation that is a viable system and capable of autonomy.


Syntegrity is a formal model presented by Beer in the 1990s and now is a registered trademark. It is a form of non-hierarchical problem solving that can be used in a small team of 10 to 42 people. It is a business consultation product that is licensed out to consulting firms as a basis model for solving problems in a team environment.

"Syntegrity", "Syntegration", "Team Syntegrity", and "Team Syntegration" are all registered trademarks. The term "Syntegrity" was derived from “synergistic tensegrity". [ [ "Syntegration: The Science" web page] ]


Stafford Beer coined and frequently used the term POSIWID (the purpose of a system is what it does) to refer to the commonly observed phenomenon that the de facto purpose of a system is often at odds with its official purpose. Beer coined the term POSIWID and used it many times in public addresses. Perhaps most forcefully in his address to the University of Valladolid, Spain in October 2001, he said "According to the cybernetician the purpose of a system is what it does. This is a basic dictum. It stands for bald fact, which makes a better starting point in seeking understanding than the familiar attributions of good intention, prejudices about expectations, moral judgment or sheer ignorance of circumstances." [cite journal | last = Beer | first = Stafford | authorlink = Anthony Stafford Beer | year = 2002 | title = What is cybernetics? | journal = Kybernetes | volume = 31 | issue = 2 | pages = 209-219 | publisher = MCB UP Ltd | doi = 10.1108/03684920210417283 | accessdate = 2008-08-24 ]


Stafford Beer wrote several books and articles: [ [ Bibliography Stafford Beer] , Cwarel Isaf Institute, Juli 2000.]

* 1959, "Cybernetics and Management", English Universities Press
* 1966, "Decision and Control", Wiley, London
* 1972, "Brain Of The Firm", Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, London, Herder and Herder, USA.Translated into German, Italian, Swedish and French.
* 1974, "Designing Freedom", CBC Learning Systems, Toronto, 1974; and John Wiley, London and New York, 1975. Translated into Spanish and Japanese.
* 1975, "Platform for Change", John Wiley, London and New York. Reprinted with corrections 1978.
* 1977, "Transit"; Poems, CWRW Press, Wales. Limited Edition, Private Circulation.
* 1979, "The Heart of Enterprise", John Wiley, London and New York. Reprinted with corrections 1988.
* 1981, "Brain of the Firm"; Second Edition (much extended), John Wiley, London and New York. Reprinted 1986, 1988. Translated into Russian.
* 1983, "Transit"; Poems, Second edition (much extended). With audio cassettes: Transit – Selected Readings, and one Person Metagame; Mitchell Communications, Publisher, PO Box 2878, Charlottetown, PEI, Canada.
* 1985, "Diagnosing the System for Organisations"; John Wiley, London and New York. Translated into Italian and Japanese. Reprinted 1988, 1990, 1991.
* 1986, "Pebbles to Computer": The Thread; (with Hans Blohm), Oxford University Press, Toronto.
* 1994, "Beyond Dispute: The Invention of Team Syntegrity"; John Wiley, Chichester.

* 1990, Stafford Beer, [ "Forty Years of Cybernetics"] , Gordon Hyde Memorial Lecture at the Cybernetics Society in London January 1990, audio file: 1hr 27mins.

;About Stafford Beer
* 1994, Harnden, R and Leonard, A. (Eds.), "How Many Grapes Went into the Wine: Stafford Beer on the Art and Science of Holisitic Management"; John Wiley, Chichester.
* 2003, Whittaker, David, "Stafford Beer: A Personal Memoir"; Wavestone Press, Charlbury
* 2006, Jonathan Rosenhead, "IFORS' Operational Research Hall of Fame Stafford Beer", in "International Transactions in Operational Research" Vol 13, nr.6, pp. 577–581.


External links

* [ Stafford Beer papers held at Liverpool John Moores University]
* [ Designing Freedom, Regulating a Nation: Socialist Cybernetics in Allende’s Chile]
* [ Commemorative web site about Stafford Beer]
* [ Stafford Beer Biography from Vanilla Beer]
* Video from Manchester Business School (1974) of Stafford Beer talking about VSM applied in Chile. [ Click on the single red triangle bottom right]
* Cybernetics of Stafford Beer. [ Google group]

* [ Cybernetics Society Memorial]
* [ The Metaphorum Group - Developing Stafford Beer's Legacy in Management Cybernetics]
* [ Systems & Cybernetics in Organisations]
* [ Introduction to the Viable Systems Model and use in Cooperatives]
* [ Web site of the cybersyn project]

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