Article by Angus Jenkinson FCybS, June 2021
Cybernetics has been accused of having no methods. Given the large body of practice, analytical tools, and methods deployed, this is an interesting conclusion. In part it develops from people who do not understand the way of thinking that cybernetics provides. The very first “tool” therefore can be considered to be the way of thinking. A related one is design thinking, an extremely influential worldwide approach used in business, town planning and much more.
One of the strategic goals of the Cybernetic Society as to cultivate an understanding of the practical ways in which cybernetics provides for interventions into a wide variety of problem areas as well as enabling ordinary functional performance at a higher level. Another aspect is the number of methods that have been developed without necessarily being labelled as “cybernetic”.
As noted in the discussion of Management, Deming — the quality guru — took a method of designing production to Japan when he was called by General MacArthur after WWII. He was credited as the principal influence, in the Japanese quality revolution. For this he was influenced by his engagement with others in cybernetics. His total quality management (TQM) structure is rooted in cybernetics. That in turn led to lean. When Chris Argyris offered double loop learning as a method, he was using the recursive structures found in general systems theory and very much in cybernetics. They contribute to Agile. Drucker’s management theory drew heavily on cybernetics — management by objectives is a cybernetic approach.
All the fundamental concepts are thinking tools — feedback, variety, context, signals, et cetera — as well as those more specifically considered as such, such as requisite variety, a design approach to ensuring models, systems, know-how, and governance structures that will be adequate.
In addition there are some quite remarkable approaches to the design of change, based on deep insights into the behaviour of individuals and what is required to bring about desired outcomes. This is a very precisely worked out approach known by some and used for some decades with very many companies. In Pig Wrestling, a fairly light-hearted management book, there is a case study of the intervention in the British Olympics team in 2012.
Cybernetic society cultivates Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and encourages members to take part, both learning and publishing their learning. The opportunity to post knowledge and questions to the community is available to members.
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