The Viable Systems Model (Stafford Beer) and Social Business Software

During my studies on my Executive MBA, we studied Stafford Beers Viable Systems model at length. I recently found a reading which, for me, very closely, marries the Viable Systems model with the complexity of organisations and their need to change to become more openly innovative. I think Social Business Software can help.

“…Firstly, the ideas behind the model are not intuitively easy to grasp; secondly, they run counter to the great legacy of thinking about organizations dating from the Industrial Revolution – a legacy that is only now starting to be questioned. To deal with the second point in more detail, organizations have been viewed traditionally as hierarchical institutions that operate according to a top-down command structure: strategic plans are formulated at the top and implemented by a cascade of instructions through the tiered ranks. It is now widely acknowledged that this modus operandi is too slow and inflexible to cope with the increasing rate of change and complexity surrounding most organizations.

Technology developments have helped to usher in a new concept of a flatter, networked-type organization with a wider distribution of data to reach all those who actually perform the work – in real time. The ground is now fertile for viewing the organization in a new light. However, there is also much confusion about the nature of this new-style organization. Ask the members of any large organization to explain its structure to an outsider and a series of confused, confusing and often conflicting interpretations are is likely to result. It is becoming increasingly apparent that it matters much less who reports to whom, as who needs to talk with whom and how all the pieces of a complex interrelated jigsaw fit together to form a synergistic whole. Yet it is precisely this sense of the whole that is so often missing.” (Espejo & Gill, 1997)

I position that deploying Social Business Software as a process, mapping the organisations visions and its strategies and deploying it with training, creating champions within the enterprise and driving this new way to become flatter, more efficient and ultimately more openly innovative is the route most businesses should choose to take.


so how do you ensure that you can successfully deploy Social Business Software

From one of my earlier posts and building on from my Masters Thesis on the topic, Levels of Trust in the organisation are absolutely essential. The higher the Levels of Trust the Higher the perceived levels of collaboration.

In addition to this, there are a few other things to look at namely:

  • You need to encourage internal entrepreneurship — give people within the organisation to become creative and seek solutions.
  • Groups of Innovators need to be created and these can be sourced from the ‘expertise’ profile within the community.
  • This needs to be pushed hard by the executive but actually at all levels… you need to find those champions.
  • The executive must allow for free, business driven discussions.
  • Negativity and harsh commentary from the executive and other leaders within the organisation will not help. Protect against negativity.
  • Small wins is what you are aiming for in the beginning. Small wins help the organisation WIN big.
  • This process takes time so be PATIENT.
  • KISS (keep it simple s…..). Don’t make this too complex.
  • Plan, Act, Decide, Implement.