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Management, Complexity Science Published: Sunday, August 26, 2001 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

My very good friend and colleague, Ulises Pabón, has just finished his superb book based on creativity, establishing the quiet revolution of creativity, innovation and fresh new thinking that is sweeping the corporate landscape, changing the approach successful leaders and organizations are taking to staying on top of change.

Thus, for a long time now our research team has been proposing a model, approach or a theory of the learning organization, pushing management practice closer to the complexity driven idea of self-organizing systems and organizations that emerge from intelligent interactions of parts, plus the existence of a driving strategy from the top down.

During the past few years the management literature and the concrete organizational practice began to explode on the multiple applications of the science of complexity. Now days the ideas of complex systems are very attractive to organizations and its leaders because this body of knowledge is making a strong case that you can have effective systems even in a world that is hard to predict, even in a world that doesn’t always makes sense in the traditional way.

Even though organizations and executives may be lured by this exotic science, the more intelligent ones stick around because they quickly learned that complex solutions do what they are designed to do: improve performance. Beyond the operational mechanics, these ideas have cultural resonance in that they acknowledge the chaos and messiness of the world, of human beings and of organizations doesn’t have to be perfectly understood in order to function well.

Complexity theory accommodates the fact that things break and that decisions need to be made in the absence of full information. It is like the best professor I ever had, Martin Landau, says “a little of redundancy is necessary for safety” and to keep systems from burning out or from collapsing. It values diversity of all sorts and underscores the case with political and ecological metaphors that make leaders feel like lions or sharks in an organizational zoo.

The science of complexity assumes that individuals are autonomous and work in their own local interest, and that management should organize on that basis, rather than trying to still an ideology of sacrifice for the only and exclusive sake of shareholders value. People used to think that when you had a group of people together, the individual was less important. But in a complex system, each individual is very important in the context of the whole. You can have both individual importance and group importance at once. Teamwork is an individual skill which is expressed in a group setting.

This circle-of-life etnos strikes a near-perfect philosophical chord with a business culture that works hard to resolve dynamics of cooperation and competition, enlightened-intellectual management and ruthless execution, personal freedom and institutional collective focus. Complexity theory overcomes some of these dichotomies and pushes the right motivational buttons.

The scientific promise is that in spite of all the chaos in the universe there can be progress after all…

 


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