Introduction The variety and range of articles and authors in this issue make it a pleasure to read and to introduce. E:CO is clearly reaching out, trying to bridge the gaps between academics and practitioners by bringing together these widely varying articles that nevertheless emerge from the fundamental reality of complexity. It is paradoxical that […]
In business, as in nature, situational agility is a condition for access to resources and hence for adaptation and survival. But can strategy deliver such agility? And does the intentionality of individual players help to shape the strategy? Real options reasoning (ROR) theoretically secures a part for strategy to play, both in creating valuable resources and in adaptation. Yet because ROR adopts an essentially linear approach, it significantly understates both the value-creating and the adaptive potential of such a part. In this paper we argue firstly that those who draw upon ecological metaphors of organizations have largely ignored the role of strategic choice in value-creation and that ROR provides a good basis for the exercise of flexibility-preserving choices. Secondly we argue that the adroit use of multiple interacting options allows firms to harness the power of complexity thinking to the creation of value and to adapt to a greater range of environmental contingencies than is on offer in either the economic or financial treatment of options. Multiple interacting options thus extend the power of ROR to cover more complex and uncertain situations.
The model by Prigogine and Nicolis suggesting how microscopic fluctuations can instigate major changes in macroscopic configurations stands as a landmark contribution, helping to incite the current explosion of interest in complex systems. This model restricts causal agency solely to simple, generic microscopic fluctuations and is formulated under assumptions that pertain largely to physical systems. In the realm of ecosystem dynamics, however, where the hierarchical order of attributes is sometimes inverted, it appears unlikely that the order-through-fluctuations scenario can provide a sufficient narrative of change. In particular, mutualistic, macroscopic configurations within ecosystems appear to exert active agency upon their microscopic features.
Although open source projects have been subject to extensive study, their coordination processes are still poorly understood. Drawing on organization theory, this paper sets out to remedy this imbalance by showing that large-scale open source projects exhibit three main coordination mechanisms, namely standardization, loose coupling and partisan mutual adjustment. Implications in terms of electronically-mediated communications and networked interdependencies are discussed in the final sections where a new light is cast on the concept of structuring as a by-product of localized adjustments.
In this article, the author argues that storytelling is a biological imperative for human beings, the psychological mechanism by which they can capture the coherent perceptions of an unknowably complex world required for survival. After examining how internal story creation reduces the world’s complexity to a state in which people can effectively choose actions, the article explores how acting on such internal stories helps create a spiral of experience, storying, acting and confirmation or contradiction of storying in experience, leading to knowledge. As experience confirms the predictions of storying, a person’s knowledge becomes stronger and stronger. Over time, stories evolve from antenarrative (what might have happened) to narrative (what did happen), and then to myth (the nature of reality). The article concludes with some thoughts on the implications of this theory of the relationship between storying and cognition.
Scientific theories have often been used to justify social actions. In the 19th century, Darwinian concepts were used to vindicate both greed and racism, and statistical patterns served as a means of rationalizing human brutality and resource distributions. In more recent times, complexity theories have been used as moral justification of social inequities. We focus particularly on the discovery that many physical, biological, and social measures tend toward a power or lognormal function. In a social context, such a function describes a situation with a very small number of very wealthy people, a small number of people with medium wealth, and an overwhelming majority of people with virtually nothing. With the causative mechanisms of such distributions having been proposed, this subdiscipline of complexity has taken on the qualities of a scientific law, from which a range of practical applications have been derived – including social prescriptions. Arguing that unequal distribution of wealth follows a natural law, these prescriptions propose that we have no choice but to accept it. The purpose of our paper is three-fold: 1. to briefly describe the nature and prevalence of power and lognormal distributions as a case-study in complexity theory; 2. to explore the overt and subtle use of the naturalistic fallacy as a means by which scientists and policy makers derive moral principles from empirical foundations, and; 3. to examine the role of free-will in the context of natural law as a means of escaping a nihilistic determinism. We show that lognormal-like distributions are indeed widespread. However, we also show that: 1. there are many exceptions of systems that tend to a more egalitarian distribution, demonstrating that ‘escape’ from the inequality of extreme lognormal patterns is possible, and; 2. society therefore has a choice of dedicating energy to establish and maintain an egalitarian distribution of resources; there is no moral or scientific justification for accepting without argument a strongly unequal distribution.
The organized complexity of living organisms: Walter Elsasser’s contributions to complexity theory A nonlinear life and career The work of the German/American physicist turned theoretical biologist Walter Elsasser (1904-1991) is unfortunately little known today even though he made important discoveries in several scientific fields and played a key role in introducing the notion of organized […]
Introduction This is the first manifestation of a feature which is designed to be a more or less eclectic and personal diary of experiences, thoughts and cases from the frontiers of applying complexity (and other related sciences) to the field of management. It comes to you courtesy of a small study attached to a villa […]
Introduction In previous installments of this series (Richardson, 2004a, 2004b) I have explored a number of general systems theory laws and principles from a complex systems perspective. One of my key motivations for this is to understand (albeit in a limited way) the relationship between systems theory and its more recent incarnation, complexity theory. For […]
Interactive agents intermixed in cultural creation are a complex brew, a bizarre blending of eccentric, divergent and vital elements that combine and recombine creating the gravitational pull that shape and form the communities in which we live. There are few better examples of the cultural caldrons out of which these emergent properties pour than a […]
Introduction Those who have read the work of Ralph Stacey and his colleagues will find much that is familiar in Paradox of control in organizations by Philip J. Streatfield. This should come as no surprise, since Streatfield was a student of Stacey’s, and this book is part of the same series on Complexity and Emergence […]
Introduction This short book is a collection of four articles that are loosely organized around understanding complexity within organizations, hence a sensemaking framework. The lead author believes that competitive success comes from being able to make sense of how the future unfolds and the ways to get to the future. Both aspects of sensemaking are […]