Stafford Beer 

Stafford Beer was born London in 1926 – the year of the General Strike in Britain.  He was of the generation whose experiences were shaped by war – WWI whose horrors were still fresh and WWII that began when he was thirteen and in which he enlisted at age eighteen.  His one year of formal university education had begun the year before and he was determined to learn as much as he could in as many areas as he could before he would go into the Army.

As a young officer in the service, he was sent to India where he began to apply what he had learned of mathematics and statistics to predict what local leaders would do. After returning to England, he continued as an army psychologist to use what was then being recognized as operational research to peacetime military concerns.

After completing his military service he began work in the steel industry first in production control, applying operational research techniques, building models and experimenting with parallels between how factories and the human nervous system worked.  He read Norbert Wiener’s “Cybernetics” and wrote to him saying “I think I am a cybernetician.’ Wiener agreed and allowed that as he was the father of cybernetics, that Stafford could be called the father of management cybernetics.  Meetings with others in the field including Warren McCulloch, W. Ross Ashby, Grey Walter, Heinz von Foerster, Russell Ackoff, Humberto Maturana and Gordon Pask led to stimulating conversations and new friendships.

This work led to the development of many cybernetic models and culminated in the Viable System Model or VSM which he took to Chile when he accepted the invitation of President Allende to become the scientific director of Project Cybersyn – still the most ambitious application of cybernetics to the integration of governance.  Although that work was stopped with the overthrow of the Allende government, Stafford continued as an international consultant to governments, businesses and non-profit agencies in Latin America, India, Canada and Europe. From the eighties until his death, Stafford lived in Toronto with his partner and collaborator, Allenna Leonard.  His activities included writing many books and articles and  teaching through visiting professorships at the Manchester Business School, Concordia, Wharton, Swansea and Durham.  

His experiences in management, his work with the OR Society and his work in Chile led him to think that there should be a way to increase the sharing of information and perspectives among people who shared common interests or goals. The result was the Team Syntegrity process which took inspiration from W. Buckminster Fuller’s statement that all systems are polyhedra. Hundreds of Syntegrations have taken place in many parts of the world and have provided a rigorous non-hierarchical process to share information and build commitment.  Stafford continued to write and speak until the onset of his final illness in 2002.  Metaphorum is one of his legacies – a network of people who apply and extend his work and who believe it still has much to offer.


Allenna Leonard
April 2017