Wednesday, 12 February 2020
Brains and Institutions: Why Institutions need to be more Brain-likeI was grateful to Oleg for pointing out the double meaning in Beer’s Brain of the Firm last week: it wasn’t so much that there was a brain that could be unmasked in the viable institution; firms – institutions, universities, corporations, societies – were brains. Like brains, they are adaptive. Like brains they do things with information which we cannot quite fathom – except that we consider our concepts of “information processing” which we have developed into computer science – as a possible function of brains. But brains and firms are not computers. That we have considered that they are is one of our great mistakes of the modern age. It was believing this that led to the horrors of the 20th century.
So what is the message of Brain of the Firm? It is that firms, brains, universities, societies share a common topology. In the Brain of the Firm, Beer got as close as he could to articulating that topology. It was not a template. It was not a plan. It was not a recipe for effective organisation. It was not a framework for discussion. It was a topology. It was an expression of the territory within which distinctions are formed. Topology is a kind of geometry of the mind.