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The Fractal Organization: Creating sustainable organizations with the Viable System Model

The Fractal Organization: Creating sustainable organizations with the Viable System Model [Kindle Edition]

Patrick Hoverstadt
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Product Description


‘This is a well–written book on a complex subject that uses helpful examples taken for actual organizations.’ (Quality World, January 2010).

Product Description

The world of management is in crisis - the old remedies no longer work and organizations   are failing at an increasing rate. Although many talk of ‘joined up thinking’, few offer practical guidance on how to achieve this in organizations. The Fractal Organization sets down the practical implications of a well tested systemic approach to building organizations   that are capable of surviving and flourishing in these turbulent times.

“An excellent read…Many organizations fail at the mercy of their own ignorance. The author has done an excellent job in making ‘the science of effective organization’ accessible to management, providing them with a new knowledge to deal with the uncertainties that the markets place upon them.”

Stephen J. Brewis, Business Architect, British Telecom.

“.. one of the most interesting, thorough and rigorous guides to management that I have ever read, … introduces new insights in every chapter… carries a credibility which acts as a counterbalance to the sometimes difficult message which he conveys which is that a lot of mainstream management practice is at best ineffective and at worst downright destructive. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in management or systems thinking.”

Penny Marrington, Course Chair, Systems Group, Open University

“In my opinion this book manages to present sound academic theory that is relevant and helpful to the practitioner in the business. I experienced several A-HA moments.”

Pauline Marsh, Strategy Director, CS&S International, BAE SYSTEMS.

"The insights of the Viable System Model have been open only to a select few for much too long. Hoverstadt has gone furthest in bringing these ideas to a wider audience…Management books have too often been serious but not practical, or practical but not serious. This book is both brilliantly serious and practical, and often entertaining too.”

Prof. Peter Kawalak, Manchester Business School.

“Integrates mainstream management ideas with the systems ideas underpinning the VSM, and flows and reads well. As a starting point for developing understanding of the VSM in today’s world this book improves greatly on all books that have gone before, I would certainly recommend it to colleagues, clients, and students”. 

Dr. Robin Asby, Course Chair, Communication and Systems, Open University

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1979 KB
  • Print Length: 337 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0470060565
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (23 Feb. 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #347,537 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Patrick Hoverstadt is a new name to most in business systems, but he has truly hit the ground running with this excellent book. He has taken the ideas developed over fifty years ago by Stafford Beer and others and makes them real to a modern audience in a highly readable debut work.

After defining the concepts used in the Viable Systems Model, he moves on, in the body of the book, to showing how they apply to real organisational issues. As well as showing what causes organisational problems, he characterizes pathological archetypes that will be only too familiar to anyone working in an organisation of any size. In passing, almost every approach to business you have ever heard or read of is also mentioned and put into context! Although this may sound messy, it is a consequence of the Systems approach and is done in such an elegant way that it actually brings great clarity.

The author's experience as a consultant is well used to provide many real world examples and this, and the easy flowing style, make this book a delight to read. The points made are not only relevant to the real world, the ideas are based in a deep understanding of business thinking (presumably originating in his "part-time academic" activities).

It is a big claim, but having read many business books over the last 15 years or so, I believe this could be the most important since the Fifth Discipline. I recommend it to managers, consultants and students alike - it deserves to become a classic.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hoverstadt's "red pill" warning is warranted 31 Dec. 2008
If you read this book you will not be able to look at your, or any other, organization in the same way. Just like Neo in the Matrix, you have choosen to take the red pill.

In the back of your mind you probably wonder why behaviours and cultures play out in organizations the way they do. Maybe its the latest reorg or executive decisions that has started you looking for a framework or science as to how the people, parts and processes of a company operate together. Hoverstadt's book provides the answers for us.

Using Stafford Beer's Viable System Model, Hoverstadt brings it in to today's business times and makes it very accessible for us all to read and understand. The examples he uses resonate with our own experiences.

A highly recommended read but remember the "red pill" warning!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Mr. Ross Maynard VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I confess that I didn't know what "fractal" meant before I bought this book - and the rather obscure title may put some readers off. In fact a fractal is a repeating pattern which, in the context of organisations, means management structures replicated at different levels of the organisation - essentially what the Viable Systems Model is about.

The book is well written - and not too heavily academic - and provides an insightful analysis of why large organisations with traditional "command and control" hierarchies don't work well. In brief, the reasons might be summarised as politics, poor coordination and communication, and competing interests; but Mr Hoverstadt spends several hundred pages discussing the many aspects of dysfunctionality. There is much good stuff there - I experienced a "lightbulb" moment reading the section on performance measures (chapter 9) and the chapter on Managing Change is excellent. However, this is not really what I was looking for in this book. I would have been happy with a one-chapter summary as I have ready many such analyses before and, to be honest, I didn't think that was what this book was meant to be about. For example, there is one chapter on the problems with performance management (appraisal). I have read dozens of similar discussions, and Mr Hoverstadt's ideas to correct these problems are much the same as those elsewhere - they don't relate in any particular way to the Viable Systems Model.

And that, for me, is the problem with this book. There is a great deal on the problems of traditional organisation structures, but that is not what I wanted from this book - there are many such examinations. What I wanted is detail on the Viable Systems Model and how it should work in practice. Sadly, this book is frustratingly vague on this point.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is much needed book. It's aim is to show how the Viable System Model developed by Stafford Beer can be used as a practical tool in diagnosing and understanding a wide range of common organisational problems. It also nicely illustrates a variety of the underlying systemic patterns generating and sustaining these problems using a Senge's causal mapping diagrams.
What makes it attractive, even to seasoned practioner/managers like me-who are familiar with the ABCs of system thinking-Ashby,Beer and Checkland- is that it doesn't get bogged down in the minutiae of theory and methodology which can put people off wanting to put its ideas into practice.
A key theme is the vital importance of understanding the inherent complexity of many of the coordination functions in an organisation. These can be both formal or informal arrangements, and can be easily degraded if organisations re-structure or people leave.
This book is a first step towards making system thinking with the VSM common sense, rather than a preserve of experts or consultants peddling their wares. I thoroughly recommend it to any manager who wants to understand why persistent personal clashes,dysfunctional behaviour or poor performance are often symptoms of a failure to recognise and address systemic weaknesses.
I disagree with a previous reviewer who says that the author does not say how the VSM can be of use in dealing with well known problems. On the contrary, it shows how familiar problems can be re-framed in VSM terms, and this, if done intelligently and systematically, can provide new insights into long-standing embedded issues that have often be seen purely as inter-personal or cultural rather than systemic issues.
The main lesson I took away from this book is that this approach is flawed -systems, culture and people are mutually adaptive and whole-system thinking must be broad and rich enough to look at their inter-relationship.

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