Introduction to the work of Stafford Beer

Stafford Beer  was a highly successful manager, consultant, and author. He advised multi-billion dollar corporations, and several governments, including the US Congress. He held a number of professorships, published around 300 papers and twelve books, and was president of several global organisations working with systems and cybernetics. 

But all of this in no way defined the man.

Here is Brian Eno:

 “He was all hair and brains: full of life, fuller of opinions, intimidatingly fast and yet encouraging. He spoke to me not as a student but as a peer. This was demanding : his mind moved quickly.”

Ref: Think before you think p 9. 

In 1975 he moved to Wales, exchanging his large house in London for a stone built two room cottage without running water and his Rolls-Royce for an old Land-Rover.  Material possessions, he wrote “ were in my way”. He was deeply spiritual and believed societal change “can be generated only by spiritual renewal of the self”.  Again, Brian Eno put it well :


 “He saw in cybernetics a resolution of his spiritual and scientific personalities, a way of turning science towards the liberation of humanity”

(Think p 10.)

He was involved in both science and art,  wrote poetry,  played strange musical instruments, played games with stones on the beach with my kids, loved fish and chips, and wrote extra-ordinary books.  He was warm and welcoming and, along with everyone else that knew him, enriched my life enormously.

Beer was interested in many (if not all) areas. His output was enormous. As David Whittaker writes in Think before you Think:

 “Many of these writings are of exceptional importance for such diverse fields as philosophy, psychology,  sociology,  mathematics,  ecology, politics, economics, ethics and epistemology”

Best known is the Viable System Model: a cybernetic approach to organisational structure inspired by the way that the body works. The work at national level in Chile in 1971 remains an inspiration. 

Stafford’s second major body of work is Team Syntegrity  AKA  Syntegration.  A meeting protocol based on the geodesic dome, designed to ensure everyone has a voice and no-one can dominate the outcome.

His art and poetry were original and inspired: his Requiem paintings had to be viewed in a specific order, determined by lines on the ground based on the enneagram: a nine-pointed shape used by Sufis.

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