Human - Organisation - Technology

Management cybernetics is a practice orientated and interdisciplinary science. It regards businesses and organisations as open, socio-technological, economic, multifaceted and networked systems. With the help of this integrated and systematic approach, management cybernetics helps to describe and explain the complex phenomena which occur within organisations. Models and solutions for these phenomena are developed with the aid of contributions from engineering, economic and social sciences.

A Short History of the Development of Management Cybernetics

Modern management cybernetics has developed as a sub-system of general cybernetics, which is becoming more and more distinguished over time. The term cybernetics is derived from the ancient Greek word “Kybernétes” which means steersman or helmsman. At one time this term would have been associated with the ability to control both a ship and its crew effectively. Thus, the association between cybernetics and human resources, organisations and technology (the ‘HOT’ approach) goes back a long time in history.

The Origin of Management Cybernetics (in dependence on Strina, in print)

Whilst early cybernetic models attempted to use formal models to convey a link between the biological and the technological, it was Jay Wright Forrester who first applied management cybernetics to social systems. In its original vein, cybernetics emerged mainly through computer simulations (cybernetics of the first order). The integration of people, and with it the perception of the system as being dynamic and complex, (cybernetics of the second order), was strongly influenced by the work of Heinz von Foerster. The involvement of the observer and a strong orientation towards epistemological problems were imperative. 

Processes of Management Cybernetics

What exactly constitutes a cybernetic perception of business? Organisational structures and processes are typically perceived with ‘theoretical’ or ‘experiential’ glasses. These ‘glasses’ often describe the perspectives of social sciences, economics and engineering sciences, which, by no accident, fit perfectly with the organisational dimensions human resources, organisations and technology suggested by the HOT approach.

Management cybernetics cannot (and does not want to) supersede the perspectives of these three individual disciplines because, for example, when faced with a technical problem, only a perspective from engineering sciences has the necessary depth to solve it. It does, however, provide a useful extension of these straight-cut perspectives because alongside such clearly defined cases there are also processes and problems which move between the interfaces of the disciplines. These are often left forgotten because no-one feels responsible for them or competent enough to handle them. This is where management cybernetics supplies the necessary extension for business and organisational observation. Strina specifies this in the following way:

All of those processes which, in their high level of integration within every business and every organisation, constitute the complex and dynamic structures between social, economic and technical sub-processes (and thus between the dimensions human resources, organisations and technology), should be understood as ‘processes of management cybernetics’.:

The Founding Principals of Management Cybernetics

Strina suggests seven basic principles that systemise the observation of businesses from a management cybernetics point of view. These can include both structural and processual aspects at any one time. Individually, they consist of the following concepts:

  • System perspective
  • Control Loop
  • Recursiveness
  • Synergy and Emgergence
  • Learning and Life cycles
  • Requisite Variety 
  • Modelling



Images and content found on this page are based upon Giuseppe Strina’s doctoral thesis.:
 Strina, Giuseppe: Zur Messbarkeit nicht-quantitativer Größen im Rahmen unternehmenskybernetischer Prozesse. Unternehmenskybernetik in der Praxis, im Druck.