Stafford Beer

Stafford was larger than life. He was extraordinarily sensitive to his surroundings, able to perceive and make sense of the minutest signals, beyond the perception of most people. He could sense moods and emotions and see deep into people even in the simplest exchanges. His wonderful holistic mind allowed him to make connections where most people would only see unrelated events. But above all he loved people and trusted them all.

He expressed in his deeds what he espoused in his thinking . Being only thirteen years-old, at the beginning of World War II, he continued his studies for most of those painful years until 1944 when he joinrd the army, and for the rest of the war he was deployed in the Punjab, where he translated his appreciation of philosophy, and in particular of logic, into models to support supplies to the British Army. Unwittingly he was contributing to a new science, what after the war became known as  Management Science. This discovery was the hallmark of his early professional years; indeed he saw before most that the works of Warren McCulloch, Norbert Wiener and Ross Ashby could provide strong foundations for this science, and his early work and publications made of him the father of Management Cybernetics. Books like Decision and Control, published in the mid 60s, had an extraordinary influence over new generations of would be management scientists. This influence was the origin of his work in Chile, which shaped the rest of his life. President Allende’s invitation to support his socialist and democratic government was drafted by two young industrial engineers and a mathematician, who saw in his work the hope for fairness and justice in society. The conception of that work was unbelievably imaginative. Political, human and resource factors became obstacles for its successful implementation, however the depth of that creative effort left clear long-term marks on many who worked with him over those years. He committed himself completely to Chile’s political process. He had no doubts that he was contributing to a just cause of significance far beyond the boundaries of that country alone.  During that time , as work in Chile was in progress, the social values of that work had been creeping into his whole being, and the military coup in 1973 was a big blow to him; he suffered deeply with the failure of that courageous attempt to create a new society.  Soon after the coup he moved away from the comfortable life of London’s leafy suburbs into the frugal life of a small and basic cottage in Wales: Cwarel Isaf. That transformation was a most daring expression of authenticity. Meditation, painting and poetry, which had always been part of his life, became an integral part of his daily routine. He wrote one of his most important books in that environment;  The Heart of Enterprise, his most cogent and powerful presentation of the Viable System Model came out from that cottage. The meaning of this model is still evolving and arguably will be recognised in the future as one of most insightful and coherent theories of organisation and management produced in the 20th Century. By the early 80’s he was increasingly carrying out assignments in Canada, where several people were working with his ideas. He started life together with Allenna Leonard in Toronto. There they formed the Complementary Set and produced a most beautiful personal relation. However Cwarel Isaf remained his base in the UK, where he always returned for some periods during the year, until last December.

Team Syntegrity, its conception, development and maturity, emerged as Stafford’s most outstanding contribution to management science in the late 80’s and early 90’s. He offered these ideas in the book Beyond Dispute. They provided a most wonderful complement to the Viable System Model; where this was a model about non-hierarchical organisations, Team Syntegrity was a process to avoid hierarchies through social and organisational conversations.

His work has influenced many people over the past 40 years all over the world. Not only many universities are increasingly making use of his ideas in teaching programmes, but also several research centres and companies are using and applying them as platforms for new programmes and structures to support management and organisation in the Information Society. Stafford was a man of the future, and it will be there that the true meaning of his contribution will emerge. is a mine of information, maintained and updated by Liverpool John Moores University. A paper by Stafford Beer entitled “On the Nature of Models: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Women, Too (from Warren McCulloch to Candice Pert)” is available online in pdf format and has links to many more online sources.