The use of narrative as a cultural determinant and as a means for communicating otherwise complex ideas is one of the basic evolutionary advantages of the human race. We learnt early on to store knowledge in the external environment, breaking the dependency that other animals have on genetic evolution and imitation of parents. The earliest […]
Emergence of third order cybernetics Much to the surprise and delight of the co-editors, this special issue of Emergence: Complexity & Organization on complexity and storytelling appears to mark more a beginning than an ending. For, while the publication of any journal is the end of a discrete project, what we are learning from it […]
This paper is occasioned by the Storymaker project, an initiative begun in 1998 to help professionals in organizations to develop their practice by recording and exchanging narratives of work experience. The paper attempts to situate the practice and theory of the Storymaker project within a wider conversation about the future of human organization and communication, centering on the relationship between narrative and complexity. It does so by comparing two approaches to developing professional capability within organizations. The first is taken from the mainstream of management thinking. By example, the paper argues that managerialism is intrinsically inimical to complexity, and has the opposite result from the one that it intends for professionals because its methods diminish human capability and potential. The second example, taken from Storymaker project experience, shows that, narrative methods expose and emphasize complexity. Storymaker, reframing the narrative approaches of nursing practice, helps professionals to create spoken-word resources that bring recorded narrative experience into the living present as a rich medium of contrasting voices. Such emergent narrative practices open up new possibilities for communication between professionals in organizations in ways that foster emergence and creativity and can also liberate the human spirit.
This article advances the idea of ‘narrative processes’ in the metaphor of organizational discourse as a complex system. There are three narrative processes, or ways in which people in organizations story events, namely: story coercion as the conscious or unconscious efforts of individuals to create universal meaning over organizational events; story weaving since narratives are always open to the interpretations of participants while being situated in the context and point of enactment; and, story betting when potential storytellers attempt to pre-story organizational events. Narratives within an organization’s discourse (i.e., stories, drama, chronicles) are a field of choices in which meaning takes place. When organizations are viewed as complex systems, the field of choices change over time, are chaotic but allow for order to emerge, and are orderly but allow for innovation to emerge. The implication is a need to collect narratives of organizational events and engage in a sense making process that provides potential interpretations for organizational members.
Terms like ‘narrative’ and ‘story’ are pretty confusing for a person who grew up in linguistic anthropology, where both have been used in a variety of ways for a century or so. The author tries to clarify the terms with the following steps. First, investor Peter Lynch’s popular use of ‘story’ serves as an informal and accessible example to narrow the focus, and Weick’s concept of ‘sensemaking’ brings ‘story’ into the realm of organizational research and practice. Next we draw on the recent work on ‘living narrative’ by Ochs and Capps. Their five dimensions of narrative give sensemaking a more grounded and detailed meaning. Then concepts from discourse analysis allow us to evaluate sensemaking for its fit with ideas about an organization as a complex co-evolutionary system.
This article compares two prominent managerial models – those of Snowden and Weick – that use narrative as a sensemaking response to complexity. After presenting an overview to their approach to narrative and complexity, we then analyze their stylistic differences as a precursor to identifying eight features of the more substantial likeness of their models. In the conclusion we distill the essential features of narrative and complexity that their concepts entail and show that individual behavior, interpersonal communication, participation, and management by exception are their hallmarks.
In this paper we choose to enact this short story of Anais Nin. We have chosen to break out of the use of conventional narrative by using psychodynamic theory to break into the experiences that facilitate and block the emergence of participation in making meaning from story. In other words, here, we take full responsibility for using our self-organization to impose other-organization, which is to break one of the fundamental tenets of complexity theory praxis. On the other hand, we must break the rules in order to understand the rules so we learn not to predict and impose the rules. To use complexity theory in organizations is to co-create stories that cause psychodynamic anxiety, to break out of positivistic organizational systems that basically tell us what we have or have not and should or should not experience. It will be shown that the elements of complexity theory create psychodynamic tension that allows life instincts, Eros, and death instincts, Thanatos, to emerge as positive and negative transformation. Consequently, we argue that Eros and Thanatos are required for breaking in and out of organizational systems. This is a destructive-reconstruction of instinctual reactions to the effects of mutual causation, paradox, and dialectics inherent in complexity theory (Stacey, 1992, 2003). To understand complexity theory, we first need to understand the complexities of psychodynamics as described by Freud.
The practice of law is nothing less than the receiving and re-telling of stories in anticipation of others’ undermining those stories in their own re-tellings of counter-stories. The ordered regime we perceive as law is the result of constraints on storytelling in the contexts of the legal system, a system in which the storytellers reduce uncertainty by telling a narrow range of stories in institutionally constrained ways. Complexity analysis suggests that legal actors, institutions and artifacts interacting through this process of storytelling on a particular scale, and doing so according to relatively simple heuristics, collectively create order at higher scales. Complexity provides a narrative map for understanding the contexts of legal storytelling, and thus a way to confront complexity and to effect change.
The relationship between tightly coupled systems, complexity and the potential for disaster is well established. Research into complex systems has led to a greater appreciation of their instability. However, in the main, studies have confined themselves to surface mapping of system interactions and to attempts to identify areas of weakness. At the same time, it has been recognized that catastrophic failure is rarely, if ever, uni-causal. Accidents often have long histories, sometimes originating decades before the precipitating event. Frequently, post-disaster analysis takes years. This special issue invites an analysis of the relationship between complexity and narrative. In doing so it poses a challenge to conventional ways of understanding complex systems. This paper looks at catastrophe and, particularly, at the Bhopal Disaster in India in 1984. It is a response to the call to examine how complexity and narrative might be brought together in the analysis of systems failures. In this sense, it provides an opportunity to attempt to disentangle the complex narratives structures which compete for interpretative validity in the aftermath of catastrophic failure.
Appardurai’s five landscapes of globalization are used in this article to demonstrate that storytelling in the mediascape can transform the terrain of an ideoscape. Storytelling is viewed to be of special significance to network organizations because it is the means by which they encourage members to identify with and act on behalf of the network. When network organizations com-pete in storytelling with other organizations, they engage in narrative netwar. An illustrative case of the Direct Action Network protests of the World Trade Organization’s 1999 meetings in Seattle, Washington demonstrates how narrative netwar occurs in the global mediascape and how the global mediascape may influence the ideoscape.
Despite the wide, immense and continuous popularity of Romance of Three Kingdoms in China – as popular as Art of War by Sun Tzu – the work is by far less widely known in the West. Yet to the Chinese, Japanese and Korean CEOs in mastering strategy, Three Kingdoms is indispensable reading. Three Kingdoms acts as a bridge that links the present with the past. In interpreting global events, a CEO or Chinese leader often takes the novel as a mental schema or a grid. For example, whilst in the West a CEO may be said to be ‘Theory X’ type, a Chinese CEO in referenced to Three Kingdoms may be said to be ‘Cao Cao’. Moreover many a top businessman from the ‘chopstick’ culture are able to weave a story from the Romance of Three Kingdoms. He may cite a word, phrase, line, dialogue or an entire episode to justify his intentions, remarks or actions taken in strategy. To function as a strategist in China, one has go beyond the MBA and know the novel. Indeed, vignettes (despite ‘Romance’) are grounded in historical settings. As such, they are very much akin to edited down versions of Harvard MBA case studies. Many of these tales, illustrate how the Art of War principles may be applied in a specific organizational context. The most intriguing aspects in the storytelling of Romance of Three Kingdoms lies in their relevance for the Chinese in making sense of what is still happening. In this paper we cite the case of Taiwan as an illustration. Given the novel’s emergence from a particularly chaotic era in Chinese history, their narratives are especially relevant for our times. The 21st century may be remembered as particularly troubling, terror-izing times: Tsunami, region wide earthquakes, killer viruses, Avian flu… and what else?
Taking poetics as its base, this paper explores emergence in a constellation of disciplines – semiotics, teleology, and the complexity sciences. In whichever field it is studied, emergence is always Janus-face. I argue that its two aspects, directionality and originality, arise from accidental patterns. Poets have always taken seriously the meaningful effects of coincidences, often attributing them to their Muses. This paper reverses that move. Rather than attribute the cause of coincidence to an intentional being, intentionality is shown to arise from efficacious coincidence. Here, as in Juarrero (1999), emergence is equated with intentionality. That is, unpredictably creative but also self-directed, emergents seem to have minds of their own, and the future of emergence studies depends upon naturalizing this mentalism. Using Peirce’s theory of the emergence of grammar as a guide, I show how mentalism can be understood in terms of animating semiotic interaction, which depends upon accidental patterns.
Recent studies in Organizational theory have directed themselves towards poststructuralist interpretation. A variant of such interpretation is based on theorists derived from the traditions of phenomenology. Letiche’s PCT is examined as a derivative case of this theorization. Complexity theory is also scrutinized, relative to arguments of the theorist Derrida (especially), but also Bergson. It is argued that complexity theory illustrates problems relative to the application of phenomenological theorization which relate in part to the difficulties of the analogical transfer of theories derived in the physical (or natural) sciences to the social world. A debate on the philosophical status of phenomenology (especially related to Derrida’s differance) presents a new angle on the extensibility of complexity to the human realm. This aspect impinges on the issue of the value and implications of the ‘linguistic’ turn relative to the complexity theory enterprise.
Introduction to Pondy’s “Beyond open system models of organization” I was in his office, when Louis R. Pondy read the letter rejecting his 1976 article at Administrative Science Quarterly by decision of the editor, calling him a member of the “cute school” of organization theory. The paper was revised, with Ian I. Mitroff (Pondy & […]
Introduction In a recent book, Haas and Drabek (1973) categorize organization research into eight perspectives or conceptual models – rational, classical, human relations, natural system, conflict, exchange, technological, and open system models – and add a ninth of their own, a stress-strain model. Their typology, like most typologies that have been developed to describe approaches […]
What is inside and what is on top? Complex systems and hierarchies In the days – about a decade ago – when a start was made to apply complexity theory to all sorts of real-world problems like social systems and organizations, the notion of ‘hierarchy’ came under pressure. A number of important insights were responsible […]
Introduction It’s being the best part of half a year since I penned the first of these articles from a villa in Bali. The contrast between the vivid colors and tropical light of Bali with its ceremonies and temples and the mists and thin winter sun illuminating the Neolithic stone circles of Avebury, a short […]
Nanotherapists have discovered that in order to create positive relationships with other people, we must begin the process far earlier than ever expected. Surprisingly, it all starts by fashioning healthy molecular interactions. What is becoming more and more evident is that if the nuclei are not happily aligned, you might as well just give up […]
Introduction Fast Company calls it an ‘idea-driven narrative’ (Sacks, 2005). This genre, made famous by Malcolm Gladwell, takes a simple (but important) idea and uses research, case studies, and personal experiences to enable the reader to see the world from a new perspective. Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki, is a notable addition to this […]
Introduction Tom Davenport has done us all a big favor by writing this book. He has clarified what it takes to “get better performance and results from knowledge workers.” As his book makes clear, this is a large, complex, multi-faceted and probably long-term – but doable – task. Although it won’t happen overnight, it can […]
Introduction For those who own the 1st Edition, some very important new material has been added: a new chapter on ‘The Hallways of Learning’ which deals with the vital subject of making meaning out of our experience. It takes in and expands the previous Chapter 3. The chapter previously called “Theory and Structure” has been […]