The Viable System Model (VSM) is not a new idea. Created by Stafford Beer over twenty years ago, it has been used extensively as a conceptual tool for understanding organizations, redesigning them (where appropriate) and supporting the management of change. Despite its successful application within numerous private and public sector organizations, however, the VSM is not yet widely known among the general management population. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the ideas behind the model are not intuitively easy to grasp; secondly, they run counter to the great legacy of thinking about organizations dating from the Industrial Revolution – a legacy that is only now starting to be questioned. To deal with the second point in more detail, organizations have been viewed traditionally as hierarchical institutions that operate according to a top-down command structure: strategic plans are formulated at the top and implemented by a cascade of instructions through the tiered ranks. It is now widely acknowledged that this modus operandi is too slow and inflexible to cope with the increasing rate of change and complexity surrounding most organizations.
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