System viability of organizations and the aetiology of organizational crisis : A Quantitative Assessment of Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model

I think this is really a big deal – as Patrick Hoverstadt says: 
“Michael Pfiffner did a study across 137 organisations and found a -0.78 correlation between organisations ‘conforming’ to VSM as a normative model and organisational crisis – in other words the more VSMy the organisation, the less likely to end up in crisis and the less VSMy the more likely to end up in crisis with a predictability of almost 80% accuracy. I think that is significantly better than anything else I’ve seen as a general predictive model.”
System viability of organizations and the aetiology of organizational crisis : A Quantitative Assessment of Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model
Pfiffner, M.D.
(2017) Utrecht University Repository
Supervisor(s): Schruijer, Sandra; Boselie, Paul
Subject of this dissertation is the aetiology of crisis processes which place organizations under existential threats and which often cause organizational demise and bankruptcy. To date, research on organizational crises (OC) has not succeeded in identifying the generic grounds for these detrimental processes in organizations. A minimal consensus can be … read more
Download/Full Text
Author keywords: System Viability, Organizational Crisis, Management Cybernetics, Early Recognition, Prevention, VSM
Publisher: Utrecht University

Embracing Complexity: towards fairness, sustainability and happiness – Jean Boulton

Embracing Complexity: towards fairness, sustainability and happiness

Complexity suggests a different approach to engaging with the world – a middle ground between control and laissez-faire.

We’ve chosen the wrong science to understand the social world.

On the one hand, there is an increasing focus for public sector organizations on defining detailed rules, standardizing methods, evidencing and measuring outcomes. The intention is to make the hospital or school work as an efficient, optimized, well-oiled machine. The belief is that if we tell people exactly what to do and check they do it exactly, then standards and efficiency will improve.

On the other hand, when it comes to commerce and the private sector, there is almost the opposite – increasing deregulation and laissez-faire driven by a strong belief in the invisible hand of the market and in the power of competition to lead to optimal outcomes. The economic world is still largely modelled as if it worked predictably and controllably, moving inexorably towards equilibrium.

What is remarkable is that these beliefs seem to harden and become ever-more entrenched despite the repeating crises facing our economies, ecologies, and societies. They persist in spite of the stark and often completely unexpected social eruptions and political crises that dominate the news. They persist even in the light of increasing evidence that policies are failing. For example, the UK – despite continuing focus on ‘machine thinking’ (defining detailed teaching methods and lesson plans, detailed measuring of performance of schools, teachers and pupils) – is near the bottom of 24 countries in relation to literacy and numeracy. And, despite neo-liberal free market policies and the promise of ‘trickle down’, inequality continues to rise; the UK is 28th out of 34 OECD countries in relation to income inequality and bottom of 37 countries in relation to difference in healthy eating between rich and poor children. If ever there was a need for fresh thinking, we are seeing it now. Yet most of the solutions that are attempted consist in propping up the status quo, doing more of the same, rather than thinking afresh and questioning underlying assumptions.

continues in headline link

What is Systemic Innovation | Midgley & Lindhult | 2017

“Systemic innovation” is used in four ways:

1. … a type of innovation where value can only be derived when the innovation is synergistically integrated with other complementary innovations, going beyond the boundaries of a single organization.

2.  … the development of policies and governance at a local, regional or national scale to create an
enabling environment for the above kind of synergistic, multi-organizational innovations.

3. … when its purpose is to change the fundamental nature of society; for instance, to deliver on major transitions concerning ecological sustainability.

4. … how the people acting to bring about an innovation engage in a process to support systemic thinking,

Systems thinking has evolved over time:

1950s – 1960s: The early systems sciences (with cybernetics)

1970s – 1980s: The 1st paradigm shift: from real-world systems to ways of thinking in systems terms

1980s – 2000s: The 2nd paradigm shift: understanding power relations and mixing methods

The methodological progression is used to redefine systemic innovation (in the fourth way, above).

We can now move to formulate a new definition of systemic innovation, based on the foregoing
discussion. At its most basic, a systemic Innovation is one that emerges from a process that supports innovators and their stakeholders in using systems concepts to change their thinking, relationships, interactions and actions to deliver new value. The definition of stakeholders needs to happen within that same process.  [p. 19]

This fourth approach can be integrated with the field of systemic intervention.

“What is systemic innovation?| Gerald Midley; Erik Lindhult | 2017 | Research memorandum 99  | University of Hull. Business School at

What is Systemic Innovation

#innovation, #systemic, #systems-thinking

Dave Snowden at TedX: A succinct overview of his groundbreaking work – from Sonja Blignaut’s blog

Dave Snowden at TedX: A succinct overview of his groundbreaking work

I first met Dave in 2002 when we were both employed by IBM.  I remember experiencing an immediate resonance with his work, especially the inherent integrity of honoring context and not mindlessly applying best-practice recipes as the big consultancies tend to do.

It is now 16 years later, and it has been a privilege to be part of his journey, and to see the thinking and methods become more and more coherent over time.  This talk is an excellent resource for anyone who wants an introduction to the thinking, or who wants to introduce others to it.

In less than 18 minutes, Dave manages to introduce complex systems theory; tell the children’s party story (3 mins 30 secs) and introduce a new theory of change based on the power of micro-narrative and vector measures enabled by Sensemaker (7 mins).

Watch it … It’s 18 minutes well spent.

Some stand-out nuggets:

On our over-focus on order and measurement (40 secs)

Order is hugely valuable to human beings, on a negative side a fear of chaos has been used to impose order unnecessarily and destroy creativity and freedom.

Over the last 40 or 50 years we’ve taken an engineering focus on society and an engineering metaphor. We’ve actually compounded order with excessive outcome based measurement. If you actually look at the history of last 40 or 50 years, everything has to have a target;  everything has to have a defined outcome and it has to be a number. Whether it’s KPI’s, number of published papers or whatever else.  The reality is all of the scientific evidence says that when human beings are pursuing explicit targets it destroys intrinsic motivation, there is no evidence to contradict that. 

Where do we most need intrinsic motivation? In health and education. And where do we impose the worst targets? In health and education so we need to start thinking differently about this and move away from a primitive dichotomy.

On managing Complex Adaptive Systems (2 mins):

Complex adaptive system:  it’s a system defined not by its structure by it by its connectivity. In a complex system everything is connected with everything else but many of the connections cannot be known. …

… Understanding how we manage them is critical and it’s not about control it’s about understanding the connections and changes in the linkages.

3 mins 30 secs: Children’s Party Story

6 mins 30 secs:

… what we manage is the emergence of beneficial coherence within attractors within boundaries and we manage the only three things that you can manage in a complex adaptive system: the boundary conditions; the probes and the amplification strategy.

Management and governance is much simpler when you understand the nature of the system and you stop trying to treat an ecosystem as if it was an engineering problem when it’s an ecological problem.

On micro-narrative and a new theory of change (7 mins 10 secs)

We need to understand what’s going on, and you can only understand a complex system by understanding the small particular parts of day-to-day interaction. For humans those are the anecdotal data of the school gate, the street stories, the beer after work; not the grand narratives of workshops but the day-to-day anecdotes of people’s existence.

And we need to understand them through the voice of the people who tell them not through an AI machine interpreting the text or an expert making them fit their cultural expectations.

The people’s own voice has to be subject to their own interpretation.

And then we need to allow those in power at any level of society to have direct access to the raw stories of the people they govern, without multiple levels of interpretation which allow them to hide from reality behind the guise of policy reports.

On change (nudging towards adjacent possibles) (15 min 40 sec)

… they can all nudge their systems in a direction appropriate to their context rather being subject to the tyranny of the average approach: the global campaign.

We need to start doing small things in the present rather than promising massive things in the future because that just leads to perpetual disappointment.

We are Dave’s exclusive South Africa partners, so if you want to explore how to implement these ideas in your own context, please contact us to find out more.

Restoring Information’s Body

In a 2011 talk, Lucy Suchman traces her research in anthropology and science studies through the Macy Conferences (via Geoffrey Bowker), her experiences at Xerox PARC, and criticisms in the popularization of design with Bruce Mau’s Massive Change exhibition.

Lucy Suchman’s Medea Talk explores recent developments in the study of digital media that recover the entanglements of bodies and technologies. Drawing on a series of examples from her own research and others within science and technology studies (STS) and design, she makes the case for an understanding of information as irreducibly social and material, virtual and real. In October, Lucy Suchman was also appointed as Honorary Doctorate at Malmö University.

How we became posthuman on Google BooksPhotographs in the presentation about the Macy Conferences are excerpted from “How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics Literature and Informatics” | N. Katherine Hayles | 1999 | U. of Chicago Press, listed on Google Scholar.

“Restoring Information’s Body: Remediations at the Human-Machine Interface—Lucy Suchman (Medea Talks #17)” | Karolina Rosenqvist | Sept. 28, 2011 | Medea, Malmö University at

“Lucy Suchman: Restoring Information’s Body – Remediations at the human-machine interface” | Oct. 2011 | MedeaTV at

Lucy Suchman: Restoring Information's Body - Remediations at the human-machine interface on Youtube

#anthropology, #science-and-technology-studies

Prolog/Acknowledgement/History on Pattern Language

John C. Thomas, who has been awarded the 2018 SIGCHI Lifetime Research Award, provides some background on his interest in pattern language, in the preamble to the Context-Setting Entrance.

It occurs to me that some readers would like to know more about Pattern Languages; the pros and cons; pointers to the research; perhaps, how to write (or find) Patterns. I will do that soon on the basis of my current understanding. I’d like to put out a few more examples first though. I find that concepts such as “Pattern” and “Pattern Language” are much better defined by example than by rule. In the meantime, here below are some pointers to give a better flavor of what this odd creature, A Pattern Language, actually looks like and whether it can be housebroken or used for hunting. As you can tell by the list below, I have tried this creature in many different circumstances. To me, it seems quite happy and affectionate. I think that when it comes to trying to work with Pattern Languages, it is necessary to treat it something like a puppy. Your attitude will be an even more important a predictor of your success than your cleverness or knowledge of the Patterns.

Let every Pattern be “frisky” and let each Pattern explore and check out odd corners of the domain (and each other). There are cases where a Pattern doesn’t apply and there are cases where no Pattern applies just as your puppy can’t do anything they want. And, there are a few places where Pattern Languages are not at all appropriate just as there are places where no pets are allowed. For example, some situations are well enough understood that they can be characterized by a mathematical formula. No need for a Pattern (or a puppy) there, though it could still be fun.

A workshop at CHI2006 and  a position paper at CSCW2011 are cited.

John C. Thomas | “Context-Setting Entrance” | Feb. 13, 2018 | petersironwood at

Via Vaiatres Quaerit 850 ans years



Conference on Complex Systems 23-28 September 2018, Thessaloniki, Greece

CCS2018 is the flagship conference on Complex Systems promoted by the CSS. It brings under one umbrella a wide variety of leading researchers, practitioners and stakeholders with a direct interest in Complex Systems, from Physics to Computer Science, Biology, Social Sciences, Economics, and Technological and Communication Networks, among others.

We are looking forward to seeing the best of your new insights in Complex Systems at the Conference on Complex Systems 2018, in Thessaloniki, Greece, to be held from 23 to 28 September 2018.

Topics covered by the Conference include, but are not limited to:

Main Tracks

1.    Foundations of Complex Systems (complex networks, self-organization, nonlinear dynamics, statistical physics, mathematical modeling and simulation)
2.    Information and Communication Technologies (Internet, WWW, search, semantic web, Blockchain, Bitcoins)
3.    Cognition and Linguistics (evolution of language, social consensus, artificial intelligence, cognitive processes)
4.    Economics and Finance (social networks, game theory, stock market and crises)
5.    Infrastructure, Planning and Environment (critical infrastructures, urban planning, mobility, transport and energy, Smart Cities)
6.    Biological and (Bio)Medical Complexity (biological networks, systems biology, evolution, natural science, medicine and physiology)
7.    Socio-Ecological Systems (SES) (global environmental change, green growth, sustainability and resilience)
8.    Complexity in Physics and Chemistry
9.    Other applications of Complex Systems


We invite you to submit a one-page abstract until the 30th of April 2018, via our EasyChair submission link: EasyChair

Abstract Submission Guidelines

Easychair will be used for all procedures

  1. Log in to using an existing account.
  2. If you do not have an account, you can easily sign up.
  3. Click on the submission link (see below).
  4. Log in to the conference as an author, and proceed with uploading your paper at the top left corner by clicking “New Submission”
  5. Follow the instructions easy chair provides you and fill in all the necessary details.
  6. Submit.

Submission link:

We accept contributed talks (regular and lightning talks) and posters. Please indicate your preference for one of the following categories to present your research:

  • Regular talk
  • Poster submission
  • Lightning talk


Oral Presentations
The allocated time for each oral presentations is 15  minutes, which total time for presentation +questions (12 min + 3 min). There is a tight schedule and it is important that each presenter stay within this time limit. Presenters will have access to a laptop with LCD projector and a laser pointer. Please, bring your presentation to the meeting on a USB flash drive to load on the in-room laptops. You should load your presentation on one of the conference laptops before the first session, during the coffee breaks, or during lunch preceding your presentation. A support staff member will be in each room to assist with the loading.

Poster Presentations
For each poster, display boards will be allocated. The poster area will open 30 minutes before each poster sessions begins each day. It is advisable to hang the posters sometime before 9:00 a.m. the day of the respective session. Posters will need to be taken down by the end of the day of each session. Presenters will be required to be next to their posters during specific time slots. Poster dimensions: 90 x 120 cm.

Lightning (Ignite) presentations
A few oral talks will be presented in the “ignite” mode. Such talks should present a single, new, key idea of the problem at hand, rather than give complete and detailed results of a research project. Thus, the allocated time will be 3 minutes. No questions/answers will be allowed. Each ignite talk should have no more than 3 slides.  All presentations should be loaded to the room laptop before the beginning of the session. Please see the support staff member of the room to assist you with the loading.

Important dates:

Deadline for abstract submission: 30 Apr 2018

Notification to authors: 1 June 2018.

Dates of the Conference: 23-28 September 2018.

Dates of satellite meetings: 26-27 September 2018.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us: