Metaphorum Webinar Series



(Artwork from Vanilla Beer)

Dear Metaphorum members

As announced in our recent Newsletter, it is a pleasure for us to launch our new Metaphorum webinar series with the first confirmed program of speakers for the next few months. Our intention with this Webinar Series is to maintain an active community of learning, where members can share their most recent contributions to theory or practice, and get feedback and critical reviews from fellow cyberneticians and systems researchers or practitioners.

All sessions are on Wednesdays from 5 to 6 pm (UK time).  The speaker will present in the first 30 min and then there will be 30 minutes for the participants to engage with the speaker. If the speaker agrees, we will make all presentations available in the Metaphorum website.

If you want to participate in any of the webinars, follow this link confirming which webinars you’d like to participate.

You can include as many webinars as you’d like in the form -. There is no cost to attend the webinars for Metaphorum members.

Looking forward to have you with us in this webinars’ series.

Angela Espinosa, Allenna Leonard and Jon Walker



( October 2020- February 2021)

November the 4th, 2020

Dr. Steve Morlidge

‘The VSM in 2020 – more relevant than ever?’

It has been said that Stafford Beer was 50 years ahead of his time. In this webinar Steve Morlidge will reflect on the relevance of the VSM from the perspective of someone dedicated to helping finance practitioners half a century distant after the first edition of Brain of The Firm was published.

Steve Morlidge 2020 Bio

General Management Thinker, Author, Speaker.

Steve Morlidge has 30 years of practical experience in designing and running performance management systems in Unilever, including three years as the lead of a global change project. He is a former chairman of the European Beyond Budgeting Round Table and now works as a management thinker, writer and speaker, drawing on his years of experience at the leading edge of performance management thought and practice. Steve Morlidge published Future Ready: How to Master Business Forecasting, John Wiley, 2010, ‘The Little Book of Beyond Budgeting’ and ‘The Little Book of Operational Forecasting’ through Matador in 2017 and 2018 respectively. His latest book ‘Present Sense: A practical guide to the science of measuring performance and the art of communicating it, with the brain in mind’ was published in November 2019.

He is on the editorial board of Foresight, a forecasting practitioner’s journal published by the International Institute of Forecasting to which he regularly contributes. He is also a cofounder of CatchBull, a supplier of forecasting performance management software and sits on the non-executive Board of the Beyond Budgeting Institute. Steve Morlidge is a visiting fellow at Cranfield University, Bedfordshire, UK and has a PhD from Hull Business School in Yorkshire, UK focusing on the application of systems concepts to the design of complex organisations. He completed his BA with honours, and he is a qualified management accountant (CIMA).

He can be reached at or


Topic: Dr. Steve Morlidge ‘The VSM in 2020 – more relevant than ever?’

Time: Nov 4, 2020 05:00 PM London


November 11th, 2020                     

Dr. Barry Clemson & Dr. Hans-Peter Plag                            

Monitoring the health of riverine systems


Riverine systems (also called watersheds or catchment basins) consist of interactions among geological features, plant and animal communities, water (precipitation, groundwater, lakes, wetlands, and flowing water), and human activities. These systems are both exceedingly complex and, when healthy, undergo essentially continuous transformations. 

Riverine systems provide a number of critical services for humanity, including clean water and air and biodiversity. Earth Viability Center is a non-profit whose mission is to provide monitoring data for the world’s riverine systems. Our approach is based on Stafford Beer’s work. Specifically, we are developing seven key indicators (essential variables) which will be presented as time series. Each indicator will be a ratio between riverine system health and the actual state. 

Because riverine systems are complex and in a state of constant flux, defining system health and selection of essential variables poses a number of issues. My webinair will discuss these issues and our progress to date. 

Dr. Barry Clemson: Bio

Stafford Beer was my most important intellectual mentor. I discovered Stafford during my MA (1967) and spent one whole year doing little other than studying Stafford and Ross Ashby. I then became very active in both the systems theory and the cybernetics societies (and served as president of the American Society for Cybernetics for two years).


BA in Science, MA in Political Science, PD in Organization Theory (all from Penn State U), Theological study with the Ecumenical Institute for three years

Key Experiences

  • Community Development / Activism (Mississippi Freedom Summer, Chicago, India, Anti-war)
  • Technician in custom manufacturing
  • Software development focusing on automated tools
  • University teaching and research (Colleges of Education and an Engineering School)
  • Construction company (owner, carpenter, tree monkey)
  • Black belt in Aikido

Current Projects

  • Administrator for a small community church
  • Planning and design for a viable post collapse village in Alaska, with a focus on a library of how to do things
  • Earth Viability Center: Monitoring the health of the riverine systems worldwide as a tactic to hopefully help in healing our planet

Key Publications

  • Cybernetics. 1986.An introduction to Stafford Beers works. Published prior to syntegration. Includes a chapter on laws of cybernetics co-authored with Allenna Leonard
  • Denmark Rising. 2009. A novel that imagines 1940 Denmark understood what we now know about strategic nonviolence and that Denmark used that for a campaign of total resistance to the Nazis. The common reaction of readers is “I didn’t realize that nonviolence could be so effective against a Hitler”.

Dr. Hans-Peter Plag – Bio

After some years as carpenter, Hans-Peter Plag studied mathematics and geophysics in Berlin and obtained his PhD in Natural Sciences in 1988 from the Free University of Berlin. From 1988 to 1997 he was head of a research group in geodynamics at the University of Kiel, Germany. During that time, he was also active in environmental movements and later a member of the Green Party. Among others, he was the lead author of a concept for waste reduction and recycling, which contributed to a significant reduction in waste and an increase in recycling. In his teaching, he introduced the students to the concept of sustainability and challenged them with the question of how Earth sciences can contribute to a successful quest for a sustainable development. In 1995, he worked for five months at the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, Bidston, United Kingdom. From 1997 to 2004 he was the head of the department “Global reference” at the Geodetic Institute of the Norwegian Mapping Authority in Norway, where he also was professor (mathematical models in geodesy) at the University of Oslo. From 2004 to 2012, he was a research professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and affiliated with the Nevada Geodetic Laboratory and the Nevada Seismological Laboratory. From 2010 to 2016, he was a Visiting Professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ, USA. From 2012 to 2013, he held the Chair on Global Change and Sustainability and was the Director of the Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute (GCSRI), University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. In June 2013, he joined ODU as the Co-Director of the Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative and Professor in the Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Science. Since March 2014, he is the founding Director of the Mitigation and Adaptation Research Institute (MARI) at ODU. 

His main fields of expertise are in sustainability, global and climate change, local to global sea level changes, Earth system dynamics, solid Earth geophysics, the rheology of the Earth’s mantle and continuum mechanics, deformation of the solid Earth, space geodesy and geodetic reference frames. He has provided scientific advise to private companies and governmental committees, particularly with respect to future sea level rise. Between 1990 and 2010, he was engaged in utilizing space-geodetic observations for Earth system research, and he was vice-president of the Global Geodetic Observing System (GGOS) from 2003 to 2008. From 1999 to 2002, he was the President of a European COST action that resulted in the establishment of the European Sea Level Service, which he chaired until 2004. From 2002 to 2004, he was Vice-President of a European COST Action on the use of Global Satellite Navigation Systems (GNSS) for improved forecasts of extreme weather events. 

Current main professional activities are related to the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), which is implementing the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). He is representing IEEE as a Participatory Organization in GEO. He engages in assessments of global catastropic and Anthropocene risks, including those related to plastics, land use, extinction, and modern climate change and sea level rise. His educational efforts focus on sustainability leadership, and he has been leading the development of an undergraduate and graduate program utilizing case studies in sustainability to create a real-world learning experience for students. He is on the Board of iCREST education initiative of the ICES Foundation. In his career, he has led more than fifteen large international projects, chaired international programs and committees, organized numerous international workshops and conferences, often as chair of the program and/or organizing committees, edited many special issues and proceedings, and coordinated and edited two international and interdisciplinary community reports with up to 40 participating authors. Since 1994, he is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Geodynamics and since 1996 Editor-in-Chief for geodesy of Physics and Chemistry of the Earth. Since 2013, he is publishing the column “On the Edge” in ApogeoSpatial, where he comments, among others, on issues of global change, unsustainability, and global risk governance.

Topic: Dr. Barry Clemson & Dr. Hans-Peter Plag. ‘Monitoring the health of riverine systems’

Time: Nov 11, 2020 05:00 PM London



November the 25th, 2020

The Neo-Cybernetic Synthesis: Ashby’s True Legacy

Manel Pretel-Wilson

Though Ross Ashby is often seen as the consolidator of a field founded by Norbert Wiener and Warren McCulloch, in this webinar we are going to learn a different history of cybernetics, one that predates the institutionalization of cybernetic movement in the USA which culminated in Wiener’s Cybernetics (1948). In particular, though Ashby is known for his published work, Design for a Brain (1952) and An Introduction to Cybernetics (1956), this untold history of neo-cybernetics preceded the emerging field of cybernetics by over a decade of intensive work on the problem of adaptive behaviour founded on a great insight in 1932 and whose final answer, a general theory of cybernetics systems, can be found in his unpublished Journal (1928-1972).  This webinar is based on Manel’s first book, Utopics: The Unification of Human Science (2020), published with Springer (

Manel Pretel: Bio

Manel holds two Bachelor Degrees from the University of Girona (Spain), Business Studies and Philosophy, two Masters Degrees, in International Political Economy from the University of Leeds and in Sustainability from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, and a PhD in Systems Science from the University of Hull which he finished in May 2017. From 2007 to 2018, he has been a senior manager in different sectors in Catalonia and, in the last two years, he has started a career as an independent researcher and writer. 

Topic: Dr. Manel Pretel-Wilson. The Neo-Cybernetic Synthesis: Ashby’s True Legacy

Time: Nov 25, 2020 05:00 PM London






December the 2nd, 2020

Complexity and ignorance in the Information Society:

 A new methodological approach

Dr. Czeslaw Mesjasz

In logical terms, the utterance “this is complex” is equivalent to the acknowledgment of ignorance of the observer. This observation is relevant to all situations, beginning from daily life and ending with applications of complexity science in all areas of studies. The challenge deriving from the role of ignorance and complexity has a special role in modern social sciences. From a philosophical point of view, the challenges of knowledge and ignorance are eternal. Their symbol is the declaration supposedly (?) made by Socrates: “I know that I know nothing.”

So what new can be said today about complexity, knowledge, ignorance in the studies of society? What are the new factors determining the increase in complexity and ignorance? How to answer to the above questions not being trapped in another level of complexity of complexity of explanations and another level of ignorance depicted with the famous sentence – I do not know that I do not know.

The paper includes the results of a book-size project, “Complexity and Ignorance in Modern Management.” The proposed conceptual framework is also applicable in other normative, action- oriented disciplines, e.g., economics or security studies. One of the sources of inspiration for the project is the popularity of the terms “chaos theory” and “edge of chaos,” showing how the incidental “catchy” names assigned to the classes of equations – chaos (Li and Yorke 1975) and “edge of chaos (Langton 1992) have a strong impact on theory and on policymaking.

The project results from the studies of applications of the ideas of complexity in social sciences with special stress put on normative, action-oriented disciplines – management, security studies and studies of environmental challenges. The project is developed with an awareness of limitations of the meaning of all terms – complexity, knowledge, and ignorance.

The main determinant of the increasing impact of ignorance on management and on social life is not a rapidly growing amount of produced and received information and knowledge called information explosion, information overabundance, etc. The equal, if not a bigger challenge, is to comprehend, or in a more general sense, to assign the meaning to those over-flooding streams of bits. In a broader interpretation, the sensemaking of this overwhelming flood of impulses is the main challenge to modern management. The development of Information Technology, and particularly, Artificial Intelligence, and its part, cognitive science, create another challenge.

As another determinant of the studies of complexity and ignorance is the development of social theory. Advanced mathematical modeling, post-modernism, post-structuralism, interpretative approaches also contribute to a higher level of ignorance.
The first results of the project can be depicted as follows. In management, the ideas taken from complexity science include mathematical models, analogies, and metaphors (of course, a reference to the latter is a simplification). Thus as the first step, a typology of applications of the ideas of variously defined complexity in social studies is prepared. It embodies most of the cases of the use of the term complexity, beginning from Kolmogorov-Solomonoff-Chaitin ideas, through thermodynamics (the concept of entropy in the definition of information also means acknowledgment of ignorance), and ending with some purely metaphorical applications of the term complexity and associated notions in social sciences. Subsequently, a methodological framework is presented, which allows disclosure what could be unknown in all the above cases of applications of the terms complex and complexity.

The proposed methodological framework, which can be called CAISSA (Complexity-and Ignorance- Sensitive-Systems-Approach) will include two elements: identification of patterns of ignorance associated with the applications of the concept (utterance?) complexity in all the above-mentioned circumstances and the ways how this ignorance can be dealt with. Of course, any “naive”, far-reaching expectations are not presented. Just hope that the level of “negative” ignorance will be diminished and the level of “positive” ignorance (the more I know, the better I know what I do not know yet) will increase.

Czeslaw Mesjasz Bio

Associate Professor, Management Process Department, Faculty of Management, Cracow

University of Economics, 31-510 Kraków, Poland,


  1. Physics, M.Sc., Jagiellonian University, Cracow, Poland.
  2. Organisation & Management, M.A., Cracow University of Economics, Cracow.
  3. Ph.D. in Economics (Area of specialisation: Organisation & Management) – Cracow

University of Economics, Cracow.

  1. ”Habilitation” (Second Doctorate) – Cracow University of Economics/Ministry of

Science and Higher Education (Poland)

Research interests:

Management theory, strategic management; Conflict management and negotiation – business, economics and in international relations. Applications of systems approach in social sciences (management, security) (special stress put on complexity of social systems and the role of complexity in management). Econophysics – complexity of social systems (management systems). Theoretical foundations of corporate governance. Knowledge management. Project management.

Research activity: Some 300 publications and unpublished works in Polish, English. Works translated into Chinese, Danish, Spanish and Turkish. Papers presented at international conferences – later published in English language books and journals.

Scholarship/ International Cooperation:

Member of the:  Polish Economic Association; International Peace Research Association (IPRA) – from 1990 until 1994 Convenor of IPRA Security and Disarmament Commission
Co-operation with the International Economic Association (IEA)
Member of International Studies Association (ISA); Academy of Management; European Academy of Management; International Sociological Association; Cooperation with NECSI (New England Complex Systems Institute), Cambridge, MA; Board of Arbeitsgruppe Friedensforschung und Europäische Sicherheitspolitik – Peace Research and European Security Studies (AFES-PRESS), Mosbach, Germany;  Co-operation with the Millennium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University –questionnaire studies and projects assessment since 1998 (Results in the “State of the Future Report”)
Cooperation with the Processes of International Negotiation (PIN) network, IIASA – International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria; Board of the Econophysics Section of the Polish Physical Society



December 16th, 2020

Dr, Jonathan Huxley.

The Viability of Tribes

“The amazing thing that needs to be investigated is cultural stability, whenever and wherever it is found.” Douglas (1985: xxii)


 In this Webinar Jonathan will propose a redrawing of the VSM that synthesises the concepts of autopoiesis, Luhmann’s Social Systems, Enaction, Friston’s consciousness, Social Identity Theory and the moral theories of Haidt and Greene, to provide a means of understanding how humans form social tribes. It will explore how and why tribes behave, why they have rituals and how they make use of emotions as a ‘language before language’ to make decisions. It will propose that tribes create narratives in a form of ‘viable language’ to maintain their cohesion and coherence and it will suggest that this provides a gateway for change management and political discourse.


System Thinking has been accused of failing to include motivation, intrinsic purpose and emotion in its application to human systems. It is a valid criticism. Even the ‘soft systems’ such as the various interpretivist and constructivist approaches of Checkland, Churchman and Ackoff fail to address issues of power, politics or coercive behaviour common in many real-world issues. These factors are highly relevant when we deal with social groups. System Thinking concepts of aligning weltanschauung, mutual construction of ‘root definitions’ or achieving consensus through the participation of the constituents in ‘interactive planning’ only work if the participants share deeper common interests, values and beliefs. In Psychology, Social Identity Theory has recognised a process of ‘de-personalisation’ between social groups in conflict that turns ‘we’ into ‘us’ and ‘they’ into ‘them’, so that not only do we belong to a group, we ‘become the group’ and employ ‘in-group favouritism’, trusting and believing our group members and dis-believing and distrusting others so that the alignment of beliefs becomes difficult and, at times, impossible.

So how do mutually constructed belief systems get formed, develop and persist, and can we align them? Is there a hierarchy of beliefs? Do some beliefs override others, and how easily can they be changed? What language do beliefs use? Are all of our organisations ultimately embedded in human systems and if so, do human beliefs form the System 5 of the highest levels of recursion of all our organisations.

To understand how social groups form, acquire beliefs, make decisions and maintain themselves this Webinar puts forward ideas that synthesise the theories of Maturana and Varela (Autopoiesis), von Foerster (Second order Cybernetics, eigen-behaviours), Luhmann (Social Systems, DiPaolo (Enaction), Eric Schwarz (Meta Models), Tajfel and Turner (Social Identity Theory), Joshua Greene and Jonathan Haidt (Moral Theory), and Feldman Barrett’s theory of ‘constructed emotion’ into a common construct based around Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model (VSM).

Why, when it is built on a framework of management cybernetics, should we use Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model to understand human systems? A model that has been accused of not adequately representing human behaviour. My answer is that the VSM represents, better than any other methodology, the processes of how stability is created and maintained, and it is stability, or rather its bigger brother, viability, that is the key factor that allows us a point of reference to compare and bring together the different viewpoints of social systems theories.

Stability, in a complex dynamical world is created by the circularity of its systems; their ‘autopoiesis’. It is only by isolating themselves from their environment by producing their own components that systems can achieve autonomy. However, as Beer showed, you need a meta-system to be able to ask the second order questions and to manage the emergence of a system of systems, to ‘see’ what that system is doing and to control it. In this way the VSM, with a little adaptation, can be used as a framework to bring together the many social theories and provide a comprehensive understanding of how groups work.  

To adapt the VSM to better represent social systems, and synthesise the other theories, we have to show that it can answer several key questions, namely; how do humans make distinctions and decisions? what creates the boundaries of a social system? what structural coupling occurs and what is a group’s consensual domain? what is the hierarchy of beliefs? What part do emotions play in our own and our group’s interactions and how do we know right from wrong?

In the Webinar we will discuss these issues and I hope to show how we form ‘viable tribes’ based on a shared understanding of the current context of our environment. How we use beliefs to guide our decision making and how we use emotions as a ‘language before language’ to create a ‘viable narrative’ that underlies the consensual domain that structurally couples our tribe together. I hope to explain how homeostats balance the tension between harmony and discord in social beliefs. How the categorisation of what is harmonious and what is discord creates meaning in social groups and how rituals reinforce identity, often by demonstrating the tensions in the group’s processes of cohesion and how art plays a key role in a group’s ‘viable narrative’.

To conclude I will propose a way to dissolve the tensions between tribes using a ‘dialect method’ first proposed by Gharajedaghi.

Captain Jonathan Huxley RFA – Bio

Jonathan Huxley has been at sea for 47 years of which 25 have been in command. During his career he has worked in a wide variety of theatres from the Mediterranean, South Atlantic, Gulf, Sierra Leone, Far East, Australasia, Caribbean, Antarctic and Artic as well as regular operations in the North Atlantic, Europe and UK waters. Undertaking amphibious, afloat support, maritime security, defence engagement, MCM support, aviation support, submarine support, OMAR and special operations.

He has commanded a wide variety of ships of all types from Fleet Tankers, Ammunition and Stores ships, Amphibious Ships, ROROs, Passenger ships and Mine Warfare Support Ships.

He is a qualified Master Mariner and has qualifications for; Royal Navy Specialist Navigation (SpecN), Navigation and Ship-handling Instructor, SRN4 Hovercraft Navigator, Advanced Polar Operations, Helicopter Controller, Flight Deck Officer and FLYCO Officer. He holds a degree in Mathematics and a PhD in Systems Thinking and specialises in the behaviour of groups and change management.

As well as command at sea Capt Huxley has undertaken shore appointments as a Navigating/Ship-handling/Seamanship Instructor at Flag Officer Sea Training, Operations Manager for the RFA Flotilla and two periods as a Strategic Change Manager in MoD and Navy Command, developing and introducing new manning, pay, operational and HR systems.

He has applied Stafford Beer’s Viable Systems Model to achieve practical results in change management and day to day operations, including development of an enterprise solution to shipboard management, and he has used the concepts of viability to help develop manning solutions and organisational decision-making processes.


February the 3rd, 2021

Prof Emeritus Michael C. Jackson

The Soul of the Viable System Model (VSM)

As long ago as 1992, I pointed to a battle for the ‘soul of the VSM’ between advocates of positivist, structuralist, and interpretive theoretical positions. It is clear that, as a model, the VSM can be put to different uses according to the philosophical inclinations of the user. This can be demonstrated if we examine the different methodologies that have been proposed for using the model in practice. It is nevertheless still worth asking questions about which philosophical and theoretical position the VSM is best equipped to serve, which makes the most coherent sense of it, and about Stafford Beer’s own views on the matter. The argument is developed on the basis of three traditions in cybernetics – first order, second-order, and ‘British’.

Dr Michael C Jackson OBE

Emeritus Professor

Centre for Systems Studies

University of Hull

(Latest book: ‘Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity’, Wiley, 2019)

Michael C. Jackson. Bio

Mike is Emeritus Professor at the University of Hull, editor-in-chief of Systems Research and Behavioral Science, and MD of Systems Research Ltd. He graduated from Oxford University, gained an MA from Lancaster University and a PhD from Hull, and has worked in the civil service, in academia and as a consultant. Between 1999 and 2011, Mike was Dean of Hull University Business School, leading it to triple-crown accreditation. Mike has been President of the International Federation for Systems Research and the International Society for the Systems Sciences. He is a Companion of the Association of Business Schools, a Chartered IT Professional, and a Fellow of the British Computer Society, the Cybernetics Society, the Chartered Management Institute, the Operational Research Society and the International Academy for Systems and Cybernetic Sciences. Mike has received many awards, two honorary degrees, and has been a visiting professor at numerous international universities. In 2011 he was awarded an OBE for services to higher education and business. In 2017 he received the Beale Medal of the UK Operational Research Society for ‘a sustained contribution over many years to the theory, practice, and philosophy of Operational Research’. Mike is known as a key figure in the development of ‘critical systems thinking’ – a topic on which he has published ten books and over 100 articles. His latest book ‘Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity’ was published by Wiley in April 2019.

Metaphorum is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Prof Emeritus Michael C. Jackson The Soul of the Viable System Model (VSM)

Time: Feb 3, 2021 05:00 PM London

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 868 6850 8597

Passcode: 9718