Growing Adaptive Organizations

Welcome to the Viable System Model

Welcome to the World of the Viable System Model

The Canvas and the accompanying playbook focus on the viability of organizations. They help to master the Viable System Model (VSM). Viability encompasses more than just survival; it involves sustaining a meaningful existence, complete with distinct goals and identity, while also preparing for the future and playing a sustainable role within its environment.

Navigating the challenges of a complex world requires a mindset akin to sailing. It demands making swift decisions in the face of changing situations, all while remaining vigilant about upcoming conditions.

Steering, in this context, is a complex, multifaceted task. This entails not only making decisions but also creating the structures that facilitate these decisions and ensuring the necessary flow of information. This holistic approach is key to effective organizational management in today’s dynamic world.

To accomplish this goal, we employ systems thinking principles derived from Cybernetics, the science of control and communication. Specifically, our approach is grounded in the Viable Systems Model (VSM), which applies the principles of Cybernetics to organizational structures. This model offers a sophisticated framework for understanding and managing the complexities inherent in organizational dynamics.

Embarking on the journey of understanding and applying the VSM can often feel like navigating through a maze of intricate and interconnected concepts. For newcomers, this complexity can be daunting, presenting a myriad of challenges and questions. This is where your need for a reliable guide becomes paramount—a guide that not only illuminates the path ahead but also empowers you to make confident strides in the world of VSM.

Enter the VSM Canvas, your pilot in this exploratory journey. Designed to simplify your initial steps into the VSM landscape, the Canvas acts as a compass, helping you steer clear of common traps and pitfalls. Accompanying the Canvas is this companion booklet, a detailed roadmap that complements your journey from understanding to application.

Structured to maximize ease of learning and practical application, this booklet is divided into two comprehensive sections:

  1. VSM Basics and the VSM Canvas: This section lays the foundation. Here, you will find a detailed explanation of the fundamental principles of the Viable System Model. It serves as a reference point for all VSM concepts, complete with a glossary to familiarize you with the terminology, followed by an overview of the VSM Canvas.
  2. Working with the Canvas: The Canvas itself uses an iterative process with distinct steps, based on the OODA loop. The sequence of the process steps is by no means mandatory: you might be new to the VSM and only be interested in a preliminary analysis. For this use case, the sequence of numbered steps gives you a guideline. You might have more experience in using the VSM and follow-up insights from analysis steps directly to design decisions.

With the playbook as your companion and the VSM Canvas as your tool, you are well-equipped to embark on this enlightening journey. Whether you are a student, a professional, or an enthusiast of organizational theory, the insights and guidance provided here will open new horizons in your understanding of complex organizational systems.

Welcome to the world of VSM – let your journey of discovery and mastery begin.

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