The Viable Systems Model is based on a study of the human nervous system and brain and the way in which it creates a super-stable system capable of rapid response to
These are qualities which are increasingly needed (and sometimes sought after) in modern organisations of every type.
One of the key thoughts arising from application of the Viable Systems Model to organisation structure is that the equivalent of a healthy autonomous nervous system is necessary for survival. If we had
to consciously control each breath, heartbeat and the million other
automatic processes that are happening within us we wouldn’t survive
very long given the slow sequential processing capability of our
Likewise the multiple points of contact with the external environment in an organisation require an empowered autonomous capability to respond. Frequently this is lacking in a legacy hierarchical
There’s nothing very new about this observation but the VSM metaphor offers an extended way of conceiving of a solution to the problem.
Avoiding the mutually supporting stances of the “centralisers” and “devolvers” of power, the VSM suggests something much more subtle embracing the essential value of both views where they are applicable.
The view that there is a VSM in each level of the organisation which will have a strategy setting and execution designing role in its own sphere answers the need for local responsiveness.
The idea that instances of Policy, Development and Control at each level are interconnected and drawn together by central instances of these types suggests that central strategy formation receives inputs
from as well as sending outputs to local VSMs. Collaborative strategy
formation emerges from this as does collaborative business development.
I don’t know about organisations you’ve worked with but in my experience either of those would be a novel development in its own right.
The really important point about this is that, compared with traditional hierarchical organisational structures, the VSM opens up the possibility of engaging a rich stream of knowledge and observation from
across all levels of the organisation in the processes of strategy and
Of course this challenges the view that only the senior levels of the organisation contain individuals of sufficient ability to make contributions to or proposals about strategy. To be fair however it
would simply be impossible to process the views of everyone in the
organisation wouldn’t it? So we’d better try and make sure that the most
intelligent and well informed people we can get make imperfect
decisions on the basis of as much information as they can process right?
Well actually it doesn’t seem to work very well does it?
And I think that’s where Prediction Markets and other collaborative tools, merged with the Viable Systems Model from Systems Thinking, can help to make the idea of a truly flexible and responsive organisation a
This is where I came up with the term Ideoconvergence (it’s not actually an assembly of fools). Where two innovative ideas come together in sensible relation to one another a new domain of
possibilities can emerge.
Of course it’s going to mean a few changes in the traditional relationship structures in most organisations. Then again, given that the first ever Organigram was developed to work out who to blame for a
rail disaster, maybe it’s time for a few changes.
What do you think?
Originally blooged at sysparatem