Cybernetics is the science of steering. Thinking
Ecologic is an active way of thinking that is whole, alive and capable of weaving together and dancing between perspectives.Angus Jenkinson


Agile development methods work on fast cycles of run-break-fix. Instead of specifying how the outcome must look, a simplified version of something that works is elaborated into a full solution while in constant use. The working methods reflect this, including such features as scrum, normally daily get-togethers, standing not sitting, to air and dissolve current issues.


Organizations embody certain design patterns that can be described as their architecture. In turn architecture enables, informs and constrains the things an organization does and can do. Architectures can apply to ideas, structures, information systems, integration methods and more.


Autonomy is the capacity to determine one’s own future and life. In organizations it is the ability to take self-motivated and situation-specific actions and decisions. Particularly the ability to contribute responsibly to an organization in the way that seems best at the time.


The ability of living forms to continuously produce or organize themselves, for example by a circular pattern in which each part of the circular pattern produces the next. It is related to but not identical with self-creation and self-organizing (q.v.).


Ba is a Japanese term meaning shared-context-in-motion, the interactions of circumstances, structures and actors in a ‘‘here and now’’ relationship. See also Situation and Causality.


Brand is a zeitgeist word for the soulful experience of organizational identity. A brand is not a logo. But the logo is the expression of the brand and acts as a context marker. See culture as the internal analogue.


A term triggering systemic misunderstandings and not applicable to human affairs and social explanations. See also Ba, Perceptual Control Theory and Situation.

Complexity and its better alternatives

Complexity is generally used to characterize something with many parts where those parts interact with each other in multiple ways. There are both competing definitions and meanings of this word, and assumptions, together leading to imprecision and difficulties in use. We tend to use complexion, systemic or ecosystem complexes, polycomplexes, and situations as more valuable terms.


Organisms and social groupings have an “organizational boundary” generating distinction from the environment in which they are embedded and on which they depend. The result is a unique identity. Autopoiesis (q.v.) is a result of and necessity for closure. The Virtuoso design uses a closed circular logic of 12 aspects to define functional identity. VSM explicitly recognises closure in the maintenance of identity (S5). 


The attunement of multiple elements with each other for meaning, life and/or value. Organizational coherence is an important purpose for Virtuoso®.


The context is the situation of an action or communication. The context gives meaning (see also coherence) and influences decision and action.


The science of steering. The pilot of a boat (or plane) has to adapt to changing circumstances, as they occur, to arrive safely at an intended destination, and learn on the job. Well designed organisations are better and more resilient at achieving good goals and at learning. Ecologies maintain regularities, organisms maintain life and identity.

Design Thinking

Design thinking emphasises creativity and functionality in design of products and services as counterposed to the way things have always been done.


Used as an alternative to “part” in any aspect of a system, situation, or field of view. Like any detail of a work of art, a detail is always embedded and belonging to the whole, taking its significance and meaning from the whole while at the same time contributing to it, typically vitally.


An active way of thinking that is whole, alive and capable of weaving together and dancing between perspectives. It sees and enables a way of connecting and a logic of action within an ecosystem with all its interdependencies.


The interaction of organisms within an ecosystem. The implied ability of an ecosystem to maintain a dynamic internal balance between species and their environmental niches.

Idealized design

A form of design exercise discovered by Ackoff, which begins with freedom of design for a desired present (i.e. a future to be realized) using only current technologies but without other constraints.

Identity system

An identity system in Thinking is an active and perceptible constituting of unique self by an organism or organization. Identity arises from and conditions particular choices. It leads to the continuing expression of how an organization is in itself and how it is recognised in its environment. Hence brand and culture.  See also propriopoietic.

The Go of it

The dynamic essence of an organization and its processes. The energetic motor of its self-expression.


In the hermeneutic circle, the meaning of text, which may be anything from a poem to a red light to a boxer’s feint, depends on the meaning of the details of the text and the meaning of the details depends on that of the whole text. The text works as a closely-coupled iterative process of mutual generation and clarification at all levels of detail.


Refers to recursions with variation depending on metamorphosis, for example how a marketing function in a company is a variation of other marketing functions and also of other functions in the company.

Knotty dialectic

In autopoiesis a knotty dialectic refers to the weaving of polarities and variations (see hermeneutics) at multiple levels of detail to form the closed field of the organism, knots being means of closure. The term derived from Varela and Maturana in Chile, and knots are an important part of Chilean cultural history. Other commentators refer to weaving.


Lean applies five principles to the reduction of waste and generation of value in processes. Value for customers, value stream; flow without waste; customer pull; and pursuit of perfection. Its methods include Statistical Process Control insights of Deming, and identify waste in a production system or service process. Lean uses a tight definition of purpose and efficiency.

Light touch changes

The art of finding the smallest change that will shift the organization to the required behaviour set. Small means limited in scope, time and cost. Light touch management does this systemically and increases self-organisation (see stigmergy).

Morphing / morphology

To morph is to change from one shape into another. Metamorphosis is the process in which a core pattern appears in multiple variant forms, which can be nested as details within a whole that shares the form. This is found in fields as far apart as music, grammar, organizations and organisms. The term derives from Goethe.


May mean both the philosophy of being, or what is, and “an ontology”, i.e. a classification or categorisation of the elements of what are or are operative, e.g. in a data system. In social systems, these are often aspects of the the organisation, i.e. the closed input and output of a particular way of seeing ‘the situation’. See also Virtuoso, which has a polymer ontology of 12 systemic aspects. VSM features 5 systemic aspects.


This became an important biological term after Varela used the metaphor to describe organizational closure. The Ouroboros was the great serpent that wound round the world in ancient mythology.

Pattern Language

Following Christopher Alexander, the world of design can be informed by patterns that have been found to work in particular circumstance. A catalogue of patterns establishes a pattern language with which to explore design challenges. Pattern languages are used in architecture, software, CX, choreography, music…


Perceptual control theory, which holds that our actions are largely designed to maintain some parameter(s) constant during what is seen as a change. For instance someone running to catch a high ball maintains a constant angle to the ball’s trajectory. A strategy is an organisational equivalent.


The study of the structures of experience and consciousness. It holds to the primacy of the moment of perception.


Making itself according to itself. Virtuoso* is a propriopoietic instrument for identifying (sic) principles that are functional for an organization’s performant and viable identity.

Requisite variety

An organization can only remain stable in its environment if it can produce enough variety in its responses to match the variety of significant states in its environment (Ashby’s Law). Variety here is a measure of difference and heterogeneity and the law concerns the ability to regulate this appropriately. Ashby recognised organisations as having “much heterogeneity in the parts, and great richness of connexion and internal interaction.”


Resilience is the ability to bounce back. In terms of an organization achieving its purpose there is an implication of many alternative ways of getting to goals and ability to adapt to changing circumstances (see requisite variety).


An argument or an approach is robust if it can stand up to attacks from a range of directions, including being undermined.


The notion that a person or an organization can become what they already have the potential to be. As distinct from being shaped by external pressure or training.


The study of signs, of sign processes in generating communication. It implies meaning making and the transmission of meaning. Biosemiotics applies this to the natural processes whereby signs are contextual instruments that influence or determine behaviour. See Virtuoso and Light Touch Change.

Service-dominant logic (SDL)

Dynamic configurations of people, technologies, organizations and shared information are marshalled through value propositions and offerings to co-create value with customers. This service dominant logic replaces good dominant logic and bypasses the duality of goods and service. Concept developed by Lusch and Vargo. IBM espouse it as Service Science. The method endorses interdisciplinary skills and approaches, see Ecologic. Thinking uses these methods and was an early adopter of much of the theory before the seminal publication by Lusch and Vargo. See Jenkinson’s Valuing Your Customers. 

Service-value principle

Identity is functional and always rooted in what is distinctively done. And what organizations do is create distinctive value in sufficient diversity to meet the evolving needs of customer community(s) they service. Thus, an organization is the result of organization and in turn continues to constitute itself uniquely in service organization. This pattern is recursive and pervasive and where present is the only occasion of ongoing viability. This is the organisational equivalent of Goethe’s primal leaf.


A set (or complexion) of conditions that constrains perception and behaviour. Used as a concrete and practical alternative to “system”. “The situation” is whatever constrains (or enables) behaviours and outcomes. Situations can be redesigned and reframed.


Turbulent flow restricts the capacity of a process: in contrast smoothing flow improves throughput and may limit risk and conflict.


The degree to which individuals tend to associate in social groups. Particularly the (evolutionary) advantages gained by individuals in forming such group.


Stigmergy is a class of mechanisms where agents influence each others’ activities thanks to an simple indirect communication mediated by modifications of the environment. This is often used to describe the behaviours of insects, as an aspect of swarm intelligence. It applies to a rail company designing and maintaining train information boards.


A behaviour or problem is systemic if it depends on the interconnectedness of the “system” rather than on any component or any narrow notion of cause and effect. By implication systemic behaviour cannot be addressed by an analytic division of concerns.


Value is  an objectively functioning element in all living organisms (modern science updating the classical/Cartesian model in which it was merely a subjective secondary phenomenon). Organisations exist to generate value. Their ongoing survival and flourishing depends on a continuing, adapting and evolving process of value co-creation in conjunction with the users. Each organisation has a hallmark individual pattern of value that it co-creates with these users. Service is a relational co-creation of value.

Viable Systems Model

Stafford Beer’s Viable Systems Model is a normative model of organization. Its claim that certain aspects of an organization need to be coupled in a specific way for an organization to be viable or ultrastable has held true.


Virtuoso® is a proprietary and practical management technology for simplifying the design, governance, strategy and managerial guidance of any organisation or team such that it functions more consistently on-brand and at its best. It’s design provides managerial and leadership tools for mapping and navigating the propriopoietic* (uniquely organising) functioning or organising identity of the enterprise (not to be confused with external ‘corporate identity’ designs). Executives and/or teams evidentially define and maintain 12 interdependent functioning regularities. These are the enterprise’s patterns of self-sustaining success, such as financial flows, service value to the market and internal behaviours. They will all be present in all healthy activities, everywhere, to a greater or lesser extent. The Virtuoso process empirically deciphers the signs of how the organisation (or any team) activates itself to work at its best and offers these as instruments of leadership and self-management. It also discovers strategic gaps in performance and enables integrated light touch interventions. The Virtuoso methodology is an integral component of Jenkinson’s Virtuosity methodology. It applies several scientific domains including ternary cybernetics and biosemiotics in relationship to the determination of choice and produces simple evidentially real statements that guide action. It is a functional tool for VSM’s system 5. Virtuoso is an advancement of the open source kernel, Stellar.