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THE VIABLE SYSTEM MODEL by Stuart A Umpleby Research Program in Social and Organizational Learning The George Washington University Washington DC 20052 Umpleby gwu edu December 15 2006 Prepared for the International Encyclopedia of Organization Studies Viable System Model The Viable System Model VSM was described by British cybernetician Stafford Beer in his books Brain of the Firm 1972 The Heart of Enterprise 1979 and Diagnosing the System for Organizations 1985 The VSM is a model of organizational structure that is based on the structure of the human nervous system Beer notes that the human nervous system as a device for information processing and decision making is the result of millions of years of evolution Imitating it may have some advantages The Viable System Model is based on Ross Ashby s theory of adaptive behavior and his Law of Requisite Variety For a further explanation of Ashby s work see the definition of cybernetics Conceptual Overview The Viable System Model identifies five management functions within an adaptive system System one consists of the units that do the basic work of the organization for example manufacturing products or delivering services System two consists of units that handle coordination and scheduling among the system ones System two activities include allocating space and equipment and enforcing rules and procedures System three is the middle management function except that its primary activity is to make a resource bargain with the system ones That is system three makes resources available in exchange for a commitment by the system ones to meet certain objectives that are agreed upon System four is responsible for long range planning and the design of new products and services Whereas system three is responsible for activities inside and now system four is responsible for activities outside and then System five manages the interaction between systems three and four and embodies the corporate ethos Hence system five decides the

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