Anthony Stafford Beer

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A slowly moving queue does not move uniformly. Rather, waves of motion pass down the queue. The frequency and amplitude of these waves is inversely related to the speed at which the queue is served.

Anthony Stafford Beer (September 25, 1926 – August 23, 2002) was a British theorist, consultant and professor at the Manchester Business School. He is best known for his work in the fields of operational research and management cybernetics.


  • General Systems Theory, as originally intended by Von Bertalanffy, is an ideal framework for the modeling of a business enterprise. Work, in its most civilized form should enrich, empower and emancipate. Thus we must continue to find ways to support work as a humanistic, not mechanistic endeavor. We must continue to seek out new models of business that support and enhance the individual as well as the collective whole. Given all this new technology, we need new institutions for handling it.
    • Beer (1974) Designing Freedom. House Of Anansi Press, Toronto cited in: B. Dawson (2007) "Bertalanffy Revisited: Operationalizing A General Systems Theory Based Business Model Through General Systems Thinking, Modeling, And Practice", In: Proceedings of the 51st Annual Meeting of the ISSS, 2007.
  • The purpose of a system is what it does. There is after all, no point in claiming that the purpose of a system is to do what it constantly fails to do.
    • Stafford Beer (1985) Diagnosing the system for organizations Wiley, p. 99.

Decision and control: the meaning of operational research and management cybernetics, 1966

  • If cybernetics is the science of control, management is the profession of control
    • p. 239 cited in: A. Ghosal (1978) Applied cybernetics: its relevance in operations research. p. 2 and many other sources.
  • Hence we may recognize the subject of management cybernetics — which is seen as a rich provider of models for doing OR.
    • p. 239.
  • An internal combustion engine is 'clearly' a system ; we subscribe to this opinion because we know that the engine was designed precisely to be a system. It is, however, possible to envisage that someone (a Martian perhaps) totally devoid of engineering knowledge might at first regard the engine as a random collection of objects. If this someone is to draw the conclusion that the collection is coherent, forming a system, it will be necessary to begin by inspecting the relationships of the entities comprising the collection to each other. In declaring that a collection ought to be called a system, that is to say, we acknowledge relatedness. But everything is related to everything else. The philosopher Hegel enunciated a proposition called the Axiom of Internal Relations. This states that the relations by which terms are related are an integral part of the terms they relate. So the notion we have of any thing is enriched by the general connotation of the term which names it; and this connotation describes the relationship of the thing to other things... [There are three stages in the recognition of a system]... we acknowledge particular relationships which are obtrusive: this turns a mere collection into something that may be called an assemblage. Secondly, we detect a pattern in the set of relationships concerned: this turns an assemblage into a systematically arranged assemblage. Thirdly, we perceive a purpose served by this arrangement: and there is a system.
    • p. 242.

Management Science (1968)


Chapter 1, Processes and Policies

  • Policy-making, decision-taking, and control: These are the three functions of management that have intellectual content.
    • p. 10.
  • Too close a view may interfere with one's grasp of an overall problem or concept
    • p. 21.
  • The strategies that managers employ are at least as important as the facilities at their disposal.
    • p. 27.

Chapter 2, Chance, Risk and Malice

  • According to the science of cybernetics, which deals with the topic of control in every kind of system (mechanical, electronic, biological, human, economic, and so on), there is a natural law that governs the capacity of a control system to work. It says that the control must be capable of generating as much "variety" as the situation to be controlled.
    • p. 37.
  • It is the concept of likelihood that a real understanding of probability resides, and we must learn how to measure it.
    • p. 41.
  • A stochastic process is about the results of convolving probabilities-which is just what management is about, as well.
    • p. 58
The development of the Watt governor for steam engines, which adapted the power output of the engine automatically to the load by means of feedback, consolidated the first Industrial Revolution.

Chapter 3, Quantified Insight

  • The aim of management science is to display the best course of action in a given set of circumstances, and this must include all the circumstances.
    • p. 61.
  • There is, then, a logical priority about the arrangements, and logic has nothing to do with time.
    • p. 74.
  • Certain management policies-stretching of credit resources, for example-may lead to great progress in good conditions; but, like the Grand Prix car in comparison with the Land Rover, they may not be robust enough to survive when the going gets tough.
    • p. 88.

Chapter 4, An Alphabet of Models

  • The whole picture is complicated by the stockists and merchants who will try to exploit any shortages that may appear.
    The result is this. The feedback information from the industry's environment consists, first and foremost, of a forward order load. Much of this "demand for steel" will be bogus.
    • p. 96.
  • A slowly moving queue does not move uniformly. Rather, waves of motion pass down the queue. The frequency and amplitude of these waves is inversely related to the speed at which the queue is served.
    • p. 108.
  • It is terribly important to appreciate that some things remain obscure to the bitter end.
    • p. 115.

Chapter 5, It Works

  • Management problems are not respecters of the company organization, nor of the talents of the people appointed to solve them.
    • p. 117.
A stochastic process is about the results of convolving probabilities-which is just what management is about, as well.

Chapter 6, The Viable Governor

  • The problem with managing either a business or a prison by periodic rather than continuous inspection is that the "variables" are likely to be seriously out of control before the discrepancy is noted.
    • p. 146.
  • Clearly, if it is possible to have a self-regulating system that implicitly arranges its own stability, then this is of the keenest management interest.
    • p. 154.

Chapter 7, Automation and Such

  • We have, over the centuries, devised a management structure for running things, whether firms or whole countries. This structure depends absolutely on the limitations of the human hand, eye, and brain. The discoveries of management cybernetics, coupled with the techniques of operational research and with the new technology of automation, make possible a new way of running things which is not so limited. Yet we insist on retaining the original structures and automating them. In so doing, we enshrine in steel, glass, and semiconductors those very limitations of hand, eye, and brain that the computer was invented precisely to transcend.
    • p. 177.
  • The system of transportation is not coherent; it is not treated as integral. Roads compete with railroads and airlines in chaotic fashion, and at immense cost to the nation.
    • p. 186.
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