Organizations can be—and, have been—modeled as rule-based systems. On a reductive view, the resulting models depict organizations as cellular automata (CA) that carry out computations whose inputs are the initial and boundary conditions of a lattice of elements co-evolving according to deterministic interaction rules and whose outputs are the final states of the CA lattice. We use such models to refine the notion of the complexity of an organizational phenomenon and entertain the notion of an organization as a universal computer that can support a wide variety of CA to suggest ways in which CA-derived insights can inform organizational analysis. We examine the informational and computational properties of CA rules and the implications of the trade-off between their informational and computational complexity to the problem of ‘organizational design’ and show how the discovery of operational rules could proceed in the context of an empirical framework.
This paper attempts to accomplish the following goals: formulate and elaborate the epistemo-logical problem of studying organizational complexity qua phenomenon and of using “organizational complexity” qua analytical concept in the study of other organizational phenomena; propose and defend a solution to this epis-temological problem by introducing a definition of complexity that (i) introduces the dependence of ’complexity of an object’ on the model of the object used, without either (ii) falling into a fully subjective and relative view of complexity or (iii) falling into a falsely subject-independent view thereof and thus (iv) making precise the subjective and objective ’contributions’ to the definition of complexity to the end of (v) making ’complexity’ tout court a useful analytical construct or hermeneutic device for understanding organizational phenomena; show how the new view of complexity can be usefully applied in conjunction with classical, well-established models of organizations to understand the organizational phenomena that are paradigmatic for the research tradition of each of those models; derive the implications of the new view of organizational complexity for the way we study and intervene in organizational life-worlds.