Stafford Beer’s Lost Book
The lost book of Stafford Beer’s so-called ”internal organ” trilogy has been unearthed and will be published in 2021. Exapt Press interviewed Rob Worth, the Editor-in-Chief of Exapt Press to tell the story.
Exapt Press: So how did you come to have this lost manuscript?
Rob Worth: Well as you know, I have an extensive collection of systems thinking and complexity memorabilia. There are china cups and saucers from the Macy conferences – one of them has a chip from when Claude Shannon turned around too quickly and bumped saucers with Margaret Mead. I’ve got a flannel shirt that belonged to Gregory Bateson in a frame, you know like you would do with a football shirt… perhaps I should have washed it before I put it in there actually. I’ve also got one of Ross Ashby’s old joke books where he would scribble down gags for his act. Did you know that he was quite a popular variety performer when he wasn’t thinking about, well, variety?
Exapt: Yes, yes, but what about this book?
Rob: I’m coming to that. One of my most prized pieces in the collection is a chair from the Cybersyn control room in Chile. You know, the ones that look like they are from the bridge of the spaceship on Star Trek. Anyway, one day I was sitting, spinning around in the chair – you’ve got to keep the bearings moving regularly because they are important historical artefacts – and I felt a corner of a piece of paper poking out from under the cushion. I gave it a little tug and it turned out it was the corner of the top sheet of a big bundle of papers.
Exapt: What were you thinking it might be?
Rob: I didn’t know what to think. Some old Chilean government report about raw material prices or something. But as I looked closer, I could tell that it was Stafford’s handwriting. As I flicked through, I realised that I might have something really exciting.
Exapt: Can you tell us what it is?
Rob: Well, I don’t want to give the whole game away, but in short it is the final book in the ”internal organ” trilogy. The first in the series was Brain of the Firm, followed by The Heart of the Enterprise, but there was never a third to round it out. People had been asking how the trilogy turned out and there has been rumours of a “third organ” for decades, but I think people had lost hope that it ever might be found.
Exapt: What is it about?
Rob: It’s Stafford’s attempt to make his work more accessible. His other books are quite deep. They are amazing but quite tough for a beginner. This book is much more amenable to the casual reader. There are more stories and jokes – some of which we might have to edit it out, it’s from the 1970s you know – and one chapter that is in comic book form. There is even a pull-out colouring sheet of the Viable System Model diagram for kids. They’re going to have to sharpen their colouring pencils because that fractal diagram gets pretty detailed!
This is exactly the kind of book that Exapt Press loves: bringing the ideas and practices of systems and complexity to a wider audience. It’s just a shame that we couldn’t have collaborated with Stafford on it – I love working with systems and complexity authors to shape a book that will really take these ideas to more people.
Exapt: What’s it called?
Rob: That’s funny you ask because there is a whole sheet of alternative titles that Stafford was playing with. He had The Duodenum of the Gathering, The Colon of the Group (that was crossed out quite a lot), Bladder of the People Who Got Together To Do Something, and my favourite, The Small Intestines of the Assembly. In the end he went with Spleen of the Company, which works quite well with the other two books, wouldn’t you say?
Exapt: Hmm… yeah. I suppose. When is it out? When can we read it?
Rob: We’re finishing the transcription now and moving on to copyediting. And we hope to get it out to the public in the summer. I’ll be sure to let everyone know when it is up for pre-order. Can I go now? I need to go and put some WD-40 on one of Norbert Wiener’s contraptions.
Exapt: Sure. Off you go. Have fun…
Rob: Before I leave, be sure to remind people to sign up to our email list to hear about new systems and complexity thinking books and other news.
Exapt: Of course, of course. It’s all in hand. Don’t worry about it.
Rob: Do you think the readers will get that this is an April Fool?
Exapt: Err… YES!