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VINE VOICEon 22 February 2012
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. We are told that the model comprises a set of management structures at all levels through the organisation, but there is no real detail on what this looks like in practice and how it works. Some case studies of good practice and discussion of how these structures work in real organisations would be really interesting. There are some vague hints in the book but nothing concrete enough to be helpful.

Mr Hoverstadt is clearly a very clever individual, and he writes well, but what I wanted was a book on the Viable Systems Model and how it works in organisations, not a lengthy review of why traditional structures don't work. Sadly, this book fails to make the Viable Systems Model tangible enough for most businesses to understand how they might go about developing such a structure. Disappointing.
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on 13 November 2008
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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on 31 December 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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on 10 December 2014
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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on 18 March 2016
I wish I had read this book 40 years ago! I know that would have been achievement as it was first published in 2008 but the Viable Systems Model it so lucidly and clearly describes actually does go further back in time, and a solid understanding of these principles would have made my life so much more productive. While it resonated with me at an intuitive level and confirmed many of the things that I have never been able to articulate it is not a book I could ever have written and Hoverstadt has earned my profound effect. This is not a book that you should only read once (unless you have a photographic memory) but is an incredibly readable reference book that should be a standard business school textbook and compulsory reading for any business executive or business consultant. Putting the contents into practice would significantly enhance the way any organisation operates - and make the environment less stressful for any of its 'stakeholders'.
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on 22 May 2013
I very much like this book in terms of the model and in particular the many business examples that very much help to cement the model. From a personal perspective I would have liked more information on the case for "monitoring" in terms of the practical application rather than consequences of poor/no monitoring. This seemed important to me as I was concerned about the sensitivities associated with direct monitoring ie. cirumventing a layer of mgmt. I can see the benefits but the application (if not managed carefully) could have a negative impact. A minor point but I would like to see the graphics represented to facilitate understanding.

I did find I had to re-read occasionally but otherwise a good book that builds upon the work of Beer and others. Would very much like to see this more widely practiced and therefore recommend.
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on 17 August 2011
I started to read this book and I could see a little bit of encourage to reach a new vision of the organization. It's a good path to explain an alternative perspective of management... a innovative vision...
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on 22 March 2009
I am satisfied with the delivery of the book. It only took two days. The book gives a good introductary overview of the "Viabel Systems Model". It is a good start also to get to know the work of Stafford Beer.
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