Stafford Beer believes that our society (as of the late 70s that is) is breaking down.
Stafford believes that the world is not suited to understanding the world as a system. He gives the example of waves on a beach, which are the visible result of a complex system.
Stafford says that the wave is itself in crisis, as it will eventually destroy itself. The goal for cyberneticians is to see beyond the crest of the wave etc. and to understand the underlying system that produces waves, so to speak. (A wave’s destruction is built into its structure)
Stafford says that our current social institutions are adaptable, which is why they don’t necessarily destroy themselves. Stafford says that they must adapt to continue to survive, to handle change.
Stafford believes that institutions do not, currently, sufficiently handle change.
Society is not a fixed entity.
Stafford believes that society is a dynamic system that produces the outputs we see all around us.
For Stafford the goal is to examine systems and understand how they can stay adaptive and handle change.
Stafford believes that an org chart is an exercise in finding fault. He says you can look at a diagram for how a car works but nowhere will you find information about speed, “which is what the automobile is all about.”
However complex a system is, there is one crucial output state that defines it: performance.
Systems that have too many internal configuration states will perform poorly.
The number of possible states of a system is called its variety.
variety : the number of possible states of a system.
All major institutions in society are high variety systems.
Variety can be reduced by subordinating freedom to efficiency.
Stafford proposes that, much like how physics is universal, there could also be a study of organizations that is just as universal.
Stafford believes that we ought to use our tools to redesign our institutions such that they serve our purposes.
Stafford believes that technology and cybernetics are tools that society misuses, and that we can use them collectively to build the world we want.
Organizations must absorb variety in order to avoid instability.
Variety controls variety, and can only absorb variety.
Stafford gives us an example of someone purchasing shoes in a department store. The variety of the store is the number of customers in the store at a given time. The store can absorb variety by having enough people in the store to support everyone who wants to make a purchase.
Law of Requisite Variety : variety absorption is 1-1
We cannot always feasibly have requisite variety, but we can approach it.
You can handle Ashby’s Law one of two ways:
- Reduce variety generated by the system so it matches available supply of regulatory variety
- Amplify the variety of the regulatory variety
The aims of society are a set of variety attenuators. — Stafford Beer
Stafford believes that computers, telecommunications, and cybernetics are on the wrong side of the variety equation, that these things often make the problem worse.
Stafford Beer wants to create a “liberty machine”, a viable system that outputs liberty.
- Open document (Hedgedoc) at https://doc.anagora.org/20210714203700-designing_freedom
- Video call (Jitsi) at https://meet.jit.si/20210714203700-designing_freedom