Where did Stafford Beer go?

Yes, I know he is dead. But where did he go? Over the years from him practicing, where did ‘he’ go? Let me explain…

I am a qualified Systems Practitioner. I have a wealth of experiential and academic learning in the field of systems thinking. Something I use a lot is Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model. I know it technically. I use it in my work and have done for many years. I learnt it as part of my BSc and then my MSc. Never, during my formative years, did I pick up from those more experienced than me, the extent of deep spirituality and love which formed part of Stafford Beer himself. What I did pick up was an elitist atmosphere of those who ‘knew’ the model and those who were deemed ‘enthusiastic amateurs’ by others. They knew what the model was, but did not know how to use it. It was all about the model. Nothing but the model.

But, with every model comes a person. With every approach comes a person. There is one thing that I have learnt in my years as a Systems Practitioner is that people love to take an approach and erase the person behind it. However, it is the person and their values, their ethics, their thoughts, their deep feelings and ethos in life that makes an approach. Not a model drawn on a piece of paper.

A number of years ago I realised just how versatile the Viable System Model was when I used it for continuing development of myself, as part of an OU PDP course. I then turned my use of the Viable System Model into my systems thinking approach, Creating the Conditions for Change©. This approach is very ethically driven. It aims to bring humanity back into our working lives. It respects individuals and all of the values and gifts they bring with them to the party. It focusses on the people in the situation and it came directly from my learning from using the Viable System Model. One of the words that comes up most often when I engage with groups using the Creating the Conditions for Change© approach is the word ‘love’. Over and over again. This is to do with how I practice and encourage others to ‘be’ in a situation.

So, when sitting in a Metaphorum webinar this month hearing Vanilla Beer talk about the spiritual side of Stafford Beer, I believed that we had somewhat lost the man behind the approach as the years had gone by. Over the last year, I have had a couple of people approach me who know my work and have said that they knew Stafford Beer and they believed he would have liked where I was going with this work. I cannot say whether I agree with them or not as I never knew him myself. However, I do think we have lost the spiritual side of the Viable System Model somewhat and I believe my work is reinvigorating that side of things.

In the Metaphorum conference, Vanilla Beer said, ‘You cannot point to the VSM and say ‘love’.’ On the contrary, I think you absolutely can.

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