The Viable System Model - interpretations and applications of Stafford Beer's VSM
Raúl Espejo; Roger Hamden
Wiley (1989)
Mathematical Models
Espejo and Harnden gather together sixteen chapters from an array of management scientists, including several chapters of their own, exploring Stafford Beer's Viable System Model from a variety of perspectives. The authors position this book as a companion volume to Beer's own three works on the VSM: Brain of the Firm, The Heart of the Enterprise, and Diagnosing the System for Organizations. In fact, The Viable System Model is published by John Wiley, the same publisher as publishes Beer's VSM trilogy, and all four books share the same binding and graphic design, making them look of a piece.

Given its status as companion volume, Espejo and Harnden do not make a special effort to fully elaborate the VSM, leaving that to Beer's own books, but instead concentrate on selections that lay out the background for the VSM, detail its application to various organizations, situate the VSM in postmodern thought and epistemology, and provide a critical evaluation of the model.

The applications section will be especially useful for those wishing to understand how the VSM may be applied to a variety of organizational contexts (including a bee hive!). While most chapters deal with the VSM within its normal context of managerial cybernetics and its associated structuralist paradigm, the authors include a few chapters that attempt to situate it within the wider contexts of management science and postmodernist philosophy. While this broader approach is welcome, the selections included are not self-contained enough to be intelligible to the reader not already versed in Maturana, Varela, Foucault, Habermas, and other postmodern writers.

Harnden's chapter on hermeneutics, especially, appears as a nearly impenetrable morass of postmodern posturing. Jackson, in his chapter on the managerial significance of the VSM, is much more successful in situating the VSM within a larger context. While the book does not include the sharp criticism of the VSM that some authors have put forward, Jackson's essay provides a much-needed and well-balanced critique of the method. As a significant body of third party work on the VSM, this volume is a must-read for anyone interested in the VSM.