Stafford Beer in memoriam – ‘an argument of change’ three decades on.

Rod Thomas, Nigel van Zwanenberg

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Abstract

Purpose This paper is written in memory of the late Stafford Beer. The paper engages with only one dimension of the whole man: Stafford Beer as the diagnostician and prognostician of the social conditions that he so keenly observed. Design/methodology/approach The paper revisits a talk that Stafford Beer gave, over three decades ago, to administrators of the UK National Health Service (NHS). It uses the content of the talk, entitled “Health and Quiet Breathing”, to diagnose the problems that have been encountered in the development of NHS information management strategies. The paper concludes with some brief personal recollections of Stafford Beer as a friend and as a teacher. Findings The paper finds Stafford Beer’s managerial cybernetics to be a useful tool in understanding many of the problems that have beset NHS information management strategies: lack of operational research, problems in the commodification of information, financial scandal, and bureaucracy. In its examination of these issues, the paper recognises Stafford Beer’s status as a legatee of not only Norbert Wiener, but also of the great philosophers. Value The paper demonstrates how the problem-orientation of Stafford Beer’s managerial cybernetics continues to be fresh and relevant to today’s society and provides a brief portrait of him both as a friend and as a teacher.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)637-651
JournalKybernetes - The international journal of cybernetics, systems and management sciences
Volume34
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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