Abstract: Evolution through Heterarchical Control in 1980s Strategic Management

Bretton Fosbrook


This paper is about the influential Global Business Network (GBN), a California-based consulting and research group in existence from 1987-2000, and a model they presented as the ideal form for the decentralized organization of the future in the late-twentieth century. Specifically, it describes how philosophy professor turned business strategist Jay Ogilvy transformed cybernetician Warren McCulloch’s 1945 experimental model for neural net communication without a center of control—what he called “heterarchy”— into a decentralized structure for not only the corporation, but also the economy and the self. This talk focuses on how Ogilvy and GBN relied on the scientific nature of McCulloch’s cybernetic “experimental epistemology” to legitimate their consulting expertise. Yet, at the same time heterarchy enabled the analysts to naturalize the unpredictable, irrational qualities in the complex, decentralized structures of the late-twentieth century.