13 Organizational Cybernetics and the Viable System Model

The viable system is a system that survives. It coheres; it is integral. It is homeostatically balanced both internally and externally, but it has none the less mechanisms and opportunities to grow and to learn, to evolve and to adapt – to become more and more potent in its environment

(Beer 1981, p. 239)

13.1 Prologue

On 12 November 1971, Stafford Beer met the democratically elected Marxist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, to explain a plan for the cybernetic regulation of the economy of the country. Taking Allende through his model of any viable system, which was to provide the theoretical foundation for the project, Beer eventually reached “System 5,” the ultimate policy‐making entity. He thought, naturally enough, that Allende would identify this with himself and his government. Instead, the President threw himself back in his chair and declared: “at last, el pueblo” (Beer 1981, p. 258). There was a meeting of minds and what became Project Cybersyn (“cybernetic synergy”) began in earnest. In Eden Medina's assessment:

Project Cybersyn was short‐lived, but it was one of the most ambitious applications of cybernetic ideas in history because of its national scope and because it formed part of a larger project for economic, social, and political transformation.

(2014, p. 219)

In Allenna Leonard's view:

No country since has been willing to try such an innovative approach although the less than satisfactory ...

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