Complex Business Systems:: anyone for Beer and cybernetics?

Modernity: business complexity beyond the capability of conventional management and hierarchical structureI first came across the name of Stafford Beer a few years back but, of late, have found myself “drawn” back to his work. As it now makes even more sense, when viewed from an inter-disciplinary perspective, than it did the first time around!

I thought Cybernetics were baddies from Dr Who!!!

First hand experience of the “unnatural”, hierarchical, business structures – that are a legacy of the industrial era – left me cold! Intended to manage people and adequate for managing “linear processes”.

That was my first experience of working life…in an Insurance company whose systems hadn’t evolved much from the days of Dickens. It was only 1979!

“Master and slave, squire and servant, boss and employee, ruling classes and proletariat … the notion of hierarchy is endemic to the human experience of social system. And yet it seems never to suffice as an organizing principle”                                                                                                                                           Stafford Beer

Years later, I was presented with the opportunity to work with a “blank canvass”, by creating a structure “agile” enough to adapt, to support a broking [insurance] strategy that achieved year-on-year growth. Thankfully, I instinctively knew that  a “flatter” structure, that aided and rewarded interdependent working, was a better option for ALL the stakeholders. So it proved.

When subsequently charged with designing and restructuring in other organisations, with engrained culture, legacy IT and fractured  internal communications, the same principles applied. Although “change management” will always be a major challenge, the task is so much easier (and adoption faster) when the people, who will be directly affected by change, gain an understanding of practical interdependence, if not complexity &/or systems thinking.

Inter-connected isn’t Interdependent

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