Stafford Beer and “Requisite Variety”

Leonid sent me some links to work by and about Stafford Beer recently. [eg A Time Whose Idea Must Come] [2005 Web Archive Copy] It’s something I should have followed up much earlier. On the quality of modelling business organisations in order to design systems for their management he says

[Quote] In programming a computer, one needs a model. Models are provided by brains. Models are necessarily massive variety attenuators, because they select only those aspects of the world that are relevant to the model’s purpose. Worse still, the models adopted are not the best that we can provide: they are consensual models put in place and held together by ideologies. And an ideology is a very low variety instrument indeed. Vast tracts of political philosophy since the ancient Greeks have been studied in common by the theorists of both communism and capitalism; but the ideologies to which the two superpowers rallied their supporters attenuated this variety in different guises. They have had this much in common: neither had Requisite Variety (as defined by Ashby’s Law) by which to manage. Both are managerially dysfunctional therefore. And neither works. [Unquote]

The tension of static and dynamic quality, Variety attenuation, Greek philosophy, Management dysfunction – my whole thesis is in there somewhere.

[Post Note: Beer makes his own main source reference to Maturana and Varela seminal work – “Autopoeisis and Cognition”. (Offline PDF Copy also available here.)]

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