Systemic Practice and Action Research

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 395–407 | Cite as

From Cybernetics and VSD to Management and Action

  • J. R. StephensEmail author
  • T. Haslett


This paper uses Stafford Beer's Viable Systems Diagnosis (VSD) to suggest that the development of a model for actionable theory in organizations would take the form of a three-step process. The first step involves the definition and explanation of an appropriate theory base, the second theory interpretation into a coherent set of action principles and the third contextual action in organizations. We contend that even for a well-informed and widely read manager gleaning the theoretical basis for this process from the recognized Beer trilogy “Brain of the Firm,” “The Heart of the Enterprise” and “Diagnosing the System” is difficult to justify in terms of time, understanding, and action. We maintain that a sound set of action principles emanating from Beer's primary work must be considered before tackling the noted trilogy. We use Beer's initial text “Cybernetics and Management” to trace some fundamental operational research and the interdisciplinary tripartite science of cybernetics. We commence our action model process with some introductory thoughts into operational research, cybernetics, VSD, and contextual action. Our first step toward action involves some primary definitions and principles of cybernetic theory and the prospect of controlling overwhelming variety. Our second step provides our set of coherent potential action principles fundamental to cybernetic theory. The paper is written in a journalistic rather than academic style reflecting the need to couch the interpretation of the theory in a language that the well-informed manager may readily translate into third step contextual practice.

Key Words

cybernetics Viable Systems Diagnosis (VSD) management action 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Greyhound Racing VictoriaMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Department of ManagementMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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