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Knowledge Cybernetics - A New Metaphor for Social Collectives

Knowledge Cybernetics - A New Metaphor for Social Collectives

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Published by myolles
Business organisations generally like to have a competitive advantage in their market. The strategic management paradigm develops theory to help this occur. Its early theory arises from optimising economic theory, the inadequacy of which led to the resource-based view. Then knowledge management was harnessed which sees knowledge as a valuable strategic resource recognising the need to look more inside the organisation qualitatively. A further development uses management cybernetics through viable systems theory, including the use of knowledge cybernetics. This recognises that achieving competitive advantage requires that an organisation’s pathologies need to be recognised and addressed.
Business organisations generally like to have a competitive advantage in their market. The strategic management paradigm develops theory to help this occur. Its early theory arises from optimising economic theory, the inadequacy of which led to the resource-based view. Then knowledge management was harnessed which sees knowledge as a valuable strategic resource recognising the need to look more inside the organisation qualitatively. A further development uses management cybernetics through viable systems theory, including the use of knowledge cybernetics. This recognises that achieving competitive advantage requires that an organisation’s pathologies need to be recognised and addressed.

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Published by: myolles on Jun 02, 2009
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07/29/2010

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 Journal of Organisational Transformation and Social Change Volume 3 Number 1
Knowledge cybernetics: a new metaphorfor social collectives
Maurice Yolles
Liverpool John Moores University
Abstract
Knowledge cybernetics is principally concerned with the development of agentslike autonomous social collectives that survive through knowledge and knowledge processes. Deriving from epistemological antecedents created by Stafford Beer and explored through notions of ontology by Eric Schwarz, a new form of knowledgemanagement arises that is connected with the notions of Marshall and her newradical classifications for knowledge. These ideas can be closely associated withconcepts of lifeworld and the ideas of communicative action by Habermas, and leads to a useful knowledge cybernetic framework. This has the capacity to relateto and develop a variety of what might be thought of as otherwise disparate theo-ries that can ultimately be expressed in terms of knowledge.
1. Introduction
Knowledge cybernetics occurs in complex systems. Complexity has beenexplored, for instance, by Nicolis and Prigogine (1989) and Cohen andStewart (1994). It is also implicit to the theory of autonomous viable systemsas explored by Beer (1959, 1985) and by Schwarz (1997). Just as the systemis normally seen as a metaphor, knowledge cybernetics is metaphorical inthat it:explores knowledge formation and its relationship to information;provides a critical view of individual and social knowledge, and theirprocesses of communication and associated meanings;seeks to create an understanding of the relationship between peopleand their social communities for the improvement of social collectiveviability, and an appreciation of the role of knowledge in this.In a coherent autonomous human activity system, knowledge occurs instructured patterns. This provides the structure that enables the system torecognize its existence, maintain itself and change, and its manifestationsconstitute systemic content. While the notion of system (attributed toBertalanffy 1951 through his notion of the ‘general system’) is used toexplain behavioural phenomena, its cybernetic exploration derives fromthe work of Rosenblueth et al. (1943) who were interested in its teleogicalproperties that relate to its identity, degree of autonomy and coherence.Autonomous system theory was of a particular interest to Beer (1979).He recognized the practical utility of the idea of the metasystem explored
19
Keywords
knowledgecyberneticsknowledgemanagementautonomous socialcollectives
 
by Whitehead and Russell (1910) in their logical study of formal systems,and used it as a way of exploring the viability of complex social systems(Figure 1) through processes of self-regulation, self-organization and control.A consequence to this has been the emergence of a new paradigm with itsown new frame of reference that transforms the way in which organizationscan be examined. It takes us away from the simple input–output model of asystem, in which the system components behave in such a way that theytransform the inputs into the outputs, to a model that explains how suchbehaviour is controlled.Beer’s paradigm effectively has two dimensions: one was ontologicaland the other epistemological (Figure 2), though his explicit interest only
20
Maurice Yolles
in that they are
Viability in complex systems
• Far from equilibrium,• inherently dynamically unstable,• use energy to maintain order beyondany thresholds of instabilitySelf-organizationand enablesNon-equilibriumchaotic process able to dealwith fundamental changethat occurs asis not able to maintain itself because• Its parts decompose or are consumed in the process and where there is nopossibility of re-synthesis, replacement or substitution• its integrity is lost through severe pathologiesComplex system viabilityEvolves through a sequence of structures and processes that enables it tomaintain integrity (through autopoiesis)Maintains its identity, and its autonomy (through autogenesis & autopoiesis)occurswhen asystemmay fail when itComplex systems are dissipative
Figure 1:Nature of complex viable systems.
Knowledge cybernetics
An analytical approach of form thatseparates out complex situations intodistinct entities that have independentmodes of beingAn analytical approachthat explores the natureand limits of theknowledge\content of agiven entity
OntologicalinquiryEpistemologyinquiry
A geometry of being that analyticallyseparates a whole into independent butrelated entities, enabling their logicalrelationships to be relatively simplyexplored
andestablishes
Explorations of pathologyand viability
andenables
Figure 2:Distinguishing between ontology and epistemology.
 
ever lay in the latter. While epistemological approaches enable the nature of knowledge to be explored, ontological approaches define types of being in away that enable complex cybernetic relationships to be expressed simply.This simplicity occurs because ontology (Poli 2001, 2005) can be repre-sented as geometry. To explain this, consider that a function of ontology isto define a frame of reference that topologically distinguishes between arbi-trarily defined distinct modes of being through the creation of a referencingsystem. Within a social context, this system then provides for the creationof a social geometry through which component properties and relation-ships can be expressed and analytically explored. In Beer’s work, the ontol-ogy was implicit (Yolles 2004) in that it analytically distinguishes betweentwo types of behaviour, metasystemic that is connected with worldview andknowledge, and systemic that is to do with phenomenal energetic behav-iour. The exploration of epistemological elements, however, was explicit,and resulted in Beer’s Viable System Model (VSM) that created an episte-mological approach capable of analysing and diagnosing complex problemsituations. An outline of VSM is provided in Figure 3, though the moreusual VSM map is provided in Figure 4 (from Yolles 1999).This model is defined in terms of distinct systemic functions that can besummarized as follows:
operations
may be constituted as a single or multi-ple system;
coordination
can provide effective control, and has interests in alimited synergy across divisions of an organization, trying to harmonizethe culture and structure of the enterprise whilst also trying to reducechaos and introduce order while trying to amplify the capability for con-trol for the induction of self-regulatory operational behaviour.
Integration
(and
control
) is concerned with effective regulation of the dynamic internalto the organization;
 futures
is important to the identity of the organization,and involves issues of development and strategic planning; policy is con-cerned with the establishment and maintenance of a coherent context forthe processes of the organization, and relates to what the organization setsout to do and defines.
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Knowledge cybernetics: a new metaphor for social collectives
CoordinationS2EnvironmentIntegration/control S3AuditS3*ManagementOperations
System
 
S1Futures/developmentS4PolicyS5
Metasystem
Link to operations onlyto collect deficit of S2
Figure 3:Ontological differentiations in the Viable System Model based on work of Stafford Beer.

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