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Complexity theory has been used extensively in the field of strategic management and organizational studies, sometimes called 'complexity strategy' or 'complex adaptive organization' on the internet or in popular press.


Complexity theory has been used extensively in the field of strategic management and organizational studies. It is used in these domains for understanding how organizations or firms adapt to their environments. The theory treats organizations and firms as collections of strategies and structures. When the organization or firm shares the properties of other complex adaptive systems – which is often defined as consisting of a small number of relatively simple and partially connected structures – they are more likely to adapt to their environment and, thus, survive. Complexity-theoretic thinking has been present in strategy and organizational studies since their inception as academic disciplines.

Complex adaptive systems (CAS) are contrasted with ordered and chaotic systems by the relationship that exists between the system and the agents which act within it. In an ordered system the level of constraint means that all agent behaviour is limited to the rules of the system. In a chaotic system the agents are unconstrained and susceptible to statistical and other analysis. In a CAS, the system and the agents co-evolve; the system lightly constrains agent behaviour, but the agents modify the system by their interaction with it.

CAS approaches to strategy seek to understand the nature of system constraints and agent interaction and generally takes an evolutionary or naturalistic approach to strategy.


For instance, early strategy and organizational theorists emphasized complexity-like thinking including:

  • Herbert Simon's interest in decomposable systems and computational complexity.
  • Karl Weick's loose coupling theory and interest in causal dependencies
  • Burns and Stalker's contrast between organic and mechanistic structures
  • Charles Perrow's interest in the link between complex organization and catastrophic accidents
  • James March's contrast between exploration and exploitation

More recently work by organizational scholars and their colleagues have added greatly to our understanding of how concepts from the complexity sciences can be used to understand strategy and organizations. The work of Dan Levinthal, Jan Rivkin, Nicolaj Siggelkow, Kathleen Eisenhardt, Nelson Repenning, Phil Anderson and their research groups have been influential in their use of ideas from the complexity sciences in the fields of strategic management and organizational studies.

See also

Looting behavior, as a destroyer of stable systems in politics,business,parasites, predator/prey eco balance, and the dangers of total success.

If the population of a successful balance of city and farm worker produces easy production of enough goods to go around, the surplus might be then drained by competition of luxury goods for display, and a class of specialists that cater to vanity and non-productive desires aooears ti desugb dressesm di face kufts and manufacture euphoric drugs.

A leisure class will appear that hords surplus food, or jewelry that by social agreement is valuable and can be exchanged for goods, or illegal services, such as hiring personal warriors.

If a plague causes a population crash and leaves the cities untenanted and full of goods, looting the unused surplus of food, goods, and residences becomes a legitimate skill and winds up with successful organized searching, and equal rationing of the discovered caches, fighting between bands of looters, and eventully a fewer and fewers bands of survivers fighting each other for the drindling available loot, with no incentive to learn how to produce anything,and a tendancy to turn for loot to the successful farmers and organized small towns, murdering them for the loot of their supplies, This looting is a positive feedback and leaves looting and battling as the only profitable lifestyle and causes a rapid dwindling of the remaining population and a great social respect for the Brave Warrior ie successful killer. We have inherited this respect that shows so strongly in our children's choice ofbarbarian warrior heros, so strongly that it is evidence that the human race has gone through a succession of accumulation of wealth small wars, plague looting and population crashes, so that the heavily muscled barbarian hunting and lurking in an empty forest has become the dream self of people working in routine jobs.

Further reading

  • Axelrod, R. A., & Cohen, M. D., 2000. Harnessing Complexity: Organizational Implications of a Scientific Frontier. New York: The Free Press [1].
  • Bar-Yam, Y. 2005. Making Things Work: Solving Complex Problems in a Complex World. Cambridge, MA: Knowledge Press [2]
  • Brown, S. L., & Eisenhardt, K. M. 1997. The Art of Continuous Change: Linking Complexity Theory and Time-paced Evolution in Relentlessly Shifting Organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 42: 1-34 [3].
  • Burns, S., & Stalker, G. M. 1961. The Management of Innovation. London: Tavistock Publications [4].
  • Davis, J. P., Eisenhardt, K. M., & Bingham, C. B. 2007. Complexity Theory, Market Dynamism, and the Strategy of Simple Rules, Stanford Technology Ventures Program working paper [5].
  • Gell-Mann, M. 1994. The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex. New York: WH Freeman [6].
  • Kauffman, S. 1993. The Origins of Order. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. [7].
  • Kurtz, C & Snowden, D (2003) “The New Dynamics of Strategy: sense making in a complex-complicated world” in IBM Systems Journal” Volume 42 Number 3 pp 462-483
  • Levinthal, D. 1997. Adaptation on Rugged Landscapes. Management Science, 43: 934-950 [8].
  • March, J. G. 1991. Exploration and Exploitation in Organizational Learning. Organization Science, 2(1): 71-87 [9].
  • McKelvey, B. 1999. Avoiding Complexity Catastrophe in Coevolutionary Pockets: Strategies for Rugged Landscapes. Organization Science, 10(3): 249-321 [10].
  • Moffat, James. 2003. Complexity Theory and Network Centric Warfare. [11]
  • Perrow, C. Complex Organizations: A Critical Essay Scott, Forseman & Co., Glenville, Illinois [12].
  • Rivkin, J., W. 2000. Imitation of Complex Strategies. Management Science, 46(6): 824-844 [13].
  • Rivkin, J. and Siggelkow, N. 2003. Balancing Search and Stability: Interdependencies Among Elements of Organizational Design. Management Science, 49, pp. 290-311 [14].
  • Rudolph, J., & Repenning, N. 2002. Disaster Dynamics: Understanding the Role of Quantity in Organizational Collapse. Administrative Science Quarterly, 47: 1-30 [15].
  • Schilling, M. A. 2000. Toward a General Modular Systems Theory and its Applicability to Interfirm Product Modularity. Academy of Management Review, 25(2): 312-334 [16].
  • Siggelkow, S. 2002. Evolution toward Fit. Administrative Science Quarterly, 47, pp. 125-159 [17].
  • Simon, H. 1996 (1969; 1981) The Sciences of the Artificial (3rd Edition) MIT Press [18].
  • Smith, Edward. 2006. Complexity, Networking, and Effects Based Approaches to Operations] by Edward[[19]
  • Weick, K. E. 1976. Educational Organizations as loosely coupled systems. Administrative Science Quarterly, 21(1): 1-19 [20].

External links

The following include a variety of places where complexity science is done in the areas of strategy and organizational studies:

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