This article explains the theory of management cybernetics in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful change management tool.
What is management cybernetics?
Management cybernetics is the area of cybernetics that is concerns itself with management and organizations. The concept of cybernetics was first introduced by Stafford Beer in the 1950s.
Mathematician Norbert Wiener defines cybernetics as the science that involves the management of biological and mechanical systems using feedback. By means of good regulations, supervision and communication, in a business context, this can help managers intervene in complex situations.
Management Cybernetics and complexity
Complexity is inherent to dynamic systems, because their processes are often non-linear and they are therefore more difficult to identify and supervise. This is why it is good to gain an understanding of processes, knowledge of the application of regulations and a better supervision of the various systems. When an organization has mastered this, then there is cybernetics.
Management Cybernetics in organizations
Before applying cybernetics in organizations, it is important that managers observe the following functions of management cybernetics:
- Management cybernetics is oriented towards the effect of processes within an organization and looks at the cohesive part of these processes.
- It is oriented towards the collection and application of existing knowledge and the gathering and application of new knowledge.
- In complex situations it helps to create the right approach.
- It develops the responsibility borne by the individual as a result of which other people become aware of their own responsibilities.
- It is an approach that is understandable for each employee and it is geared towards the long term.
- This approach has been practised by everyone at some point, regardless of whether they are aware of this or not.
In order to understand how processes work, the following standard approach is used below:
When A does something to B, it results in C which in turn results in D, etc.
This way of thinking requires answers. It determines what the specific factor is and on which circumstances the factors are dependent. The following thinking pattern is typical of management cybernetics:
When A does something to B, what will A and B do to arrive at C?
This question is oriented towards individual relationships. Managers could ask themselves ‘what does an employee do in exchange for what is done for that employee?’ In this way, managers apply the cybernetic theory without realizing this.
As founder of management cybernetics, Beer targets the application of the natural laws of cybernetics within organizations, companies and institutes. The uniqueness of his work is that he does not try to simplify reality. Just like William Ross Ashby he thinks that complex situations can only be approached with at least the same size of the complexity.
Beer wants to clarify all processes that take place within a closed system of an organization: “By separately identifying all possible factors within a complex system, they will become clearly recognizable and understandable for everyone within an organization.” He describes (operational) processes as a circular system; when one process ends, another process starts again from the beginning. This is why processes become visible and why they can be described clearly as a result of which they can be used within an organization.
Management cybernetics provides managers with a clear picture of the approach of complex situations and processes. This is how organizations can respond to complexity in an effective and adequate manner, which will create a stable, sustainable and flexible enterprise.
- Skyttner, L. (2001). Multiple perspectives of management cybernetics. General Systems Theory: Ideas & Applications, p. 327-336.
- Beer, A. S. (1966). Decision and Control: The Meaning of Operational Research and Management Cybernetics, Wiley, ISBN-10: 0471948381, ISBN-13: 978-0471948384.
- Beer, A. S. (1959). Cybernetics and Management. English University Press. 214pp.
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