Introduction The new paradigms of dissipative structures, synergetics and complexity have emerged from the study of open systems with qualitatively evolving dynamical regimes concerning inherently non-equilibrium situations. The older traditions of natural science had, through the use of either mechanical or equilibrium assumptions, divorced themselves from history. The complex intertwining of processes and events in […]
This paper addresses the issue of change in organizations in the new conditions of the contemporary world. We argue that linear theories and models still dominant in organizational sciences are inadequate to understand different modalities of change today. We deploy Prigogine’s concept of far-from-equilibrium dynamics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, and Zadeh’s fuzzy logic, to develop more complex and adequate ideas of change in organizations. We show the value of these ideas for organization studies and theories of the “postmodern” world, illustrating their explanatory power by analyzing aspects of the success and failure of Enron, as a case study of organizational change in a chaotic world.
This paper explores the concepts of organizational knowledge and intelligence from the perspective of new systems theory. It draws particularly on Niklas Luhmann’s theory of social systems, George Spencer-Brown’s calculus of distinctions, and Dirk Baecker’s applications of the two to questions of management. According to this view, knowledge can be conceptualized as a structure that determines the way in which information is dealt with. In other words, knowledge is a structure that determines whether a difference makes a difference and, if so, what difference it makes. Knowledge thus means selection; and selection implies contingency — one could have selected differently. The selectivity of knowledge, however, remains latent. That, and what knowledge excludes, is not included in the knowledge. Knowledge, thus, inevitably implies nonknowledge as its other, or “dark,” side. Intelligence can be conceptualized in relation to knowledge. It can be understood as the ability to deal with the other side of knowledge — to deal with nonknowledge. According to this view, an organization is intelligent to the extent that it is aware of its nonknowledge and takes account of this nonknowledge in its operations. In terms of Spencer-Brown’s theory, intelligence appears as the re-entry of nonknowledge into knowledge. Three examples of forms of organizational intelligence are presented in this paper: inter-organizational networks, heterarchy, and organizational interaction.
Complexity science, aside from adding considerable jargon, aids in understanding power, powerlessness and empowerment in conflict. Weaker agents, that would traditionally be viewed as powerless in a conflict, use protest and direct action to improve their own fitness, and deform stronger agents’ fitness on their shared landscape. They attempt to drive a conflict system into instability, or unpredictability, or launch a cascade where a new equilibrium may favor their disadvantaged position. The data suggest that networked protest groups, as well as having passion and commitment, are structurally and organizationally well adapted for their fight against the powerful. Following complexity principles makes protest groups fitter, and makes the hierarchies against which they are protesting less inclined to understand or tolerate them.
Currently 65-70 percent of organizational change efforts fail. This paper suggests that the dominant, linear approaches to organizational change may be less functional than complexity analyses and approaches to organizational change. Focusing on self-organizing rather than linear relationships, the author attempts to distinguish organizational capacity for adaptability among different organizational patterns identified by Glor (2001a, 2001b), emphasizing the three complex factors of individuals, social dynamics, and the challenge of implemention. It defines adaptation using criteria drawn from the theory of complex adaptive systems: variety, reactivity, and capacity for self-organized emergence. At a conceptual level, the analysis is able to identify varying capacities for adaptation among the different organizational patterns, some of them surprising.
Complexity is understood differently in anthropology and the complexity studies. I discuss the two principles of socio-political organization, particularly, the phenomenon of homoarchy as a counterpart to that of heterarchy. Respectively to heterarchy — “… the relation of elements to one another when they are unranked or when they possess the potential for being ranked in a number of different ways,” homoarchy is “the relation of elements to one another when they are rigidly ranked one way only, and thus possess no (or limited) potential for being unranked or ranked in another or a number of different ways at least without cardinal reshaping of the whole socio-political order.” For anthropology, it is wrong to postulate that either heterarchy or homoarchy presupposes a higher level of complexity, while for the complexity students the heterarchic model is more complex than homoarchic: It is not less sustained but has a higher degree of non-equilibrium.
I have always thought of myself as a fairly pragmatic person, not taken in by trickery or prefabricated illusions other than my own. I remember going to the Magic Castle in Los Angeles and watching the close-up magicians. My goal was to search for the slight of hand and at what point in the trick […]
In this always informal, sometimes tongue-in-cheek paper, the author reports on his work bringing introductory complexity concepts to purveyors of social services. With an ethnographic tone he talks about some of the core problems practitioners try to contend with and how it is that complexity thinking allows them to see those problems in a different and potentially more useful way. The key to this commentary is the phrase “nonlinear dynamic systems,” the three concepts that are illustrated one at a time by examples from the author’s previous work. The serious subtext of the essay is this: The parallels between complexity and social service issues suggest a transformation blocked primarily by the thicket of regulations and hierarchical structures maintained by governments and funders. With political will for change at the top, a variety of new experiments in more effective and efficient social services could be tried.