Stafford Beer. (Obituary)
We are sad to have to report the death of Stafford Beer, one of the most remarkable figures which British operational research (OR) has produced. He died in Toronto on August 23 at the age of 75 after a considerable period of ill-health. He was President of the Society in 1970-71. A charismatic, even flamboyant, character, he founded two major and pioneering OR groups; wrote some of the best books about the subject; and was a world leader in the development of systems ideas. He is widely acknowledged as the founder of the field of Management Cybernetics. This international stature led to his engagement as advisor to several national Presidents. His recognition was always greater abroad than at home, where the British establishment was evidently uncomfortable with his large-scale vision and radical orientation.
His thinking and practice on how decisions about complex social systems could best be made went through a number of phases. As an operational researcher he pioneered the use of interdisciplinary teams to tackle problems in business, government and society. As a systems `guru' he was concerned with designing appropriate feedback loops into social systems. His more recent work was on participative methods to enable large groups to arrive at solutions to their own problems. What united these aspects of his work was an early and consistent commitment to a holistic approach to complexity.
Stafford Beer was born in London in 1926, where his father was Chief Statistician at Lloyd's Register of Shipping. He had started a degree in philosophy and psychology at University College London but in 1944 left it incomplete to join the Army. He saw service as a company commander and in intelligence in India, and stayed there until 1947, leaving the Army with the rank of Captain in 1949.
At about this time he was gripped by the realisation that OR, so successful during the war, had immense possibilities in peacetime also. Appointed to a management position in a steel company, he soon persuaded them to set up an OR group, which he...