The Crisis and the Complexity of Knowing

The Crisis and the Complexity of Knowing

Ton Jörg (University of Utrecht, The Netherlands)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/jkss.2012070101


The crisis our society finds itself in is very much a crisis of knowledge; that is, a lack of knowledge about the complex world. Humanity ‘simply’ do not know what they do not know. This is true for the complexity of a nonlinear complex reality. Complexity is still taken for granted. Ignorance on complexity is still dominating our worldview. Complex organizations are trying to face the complexity of the world, but show at the same time their ignorance on the very complexity of complexity. Harnessing complexity is a hardy perennial for these complex organizations. They do not seem able to explore the very potential of complexity for their own organizations, in terms of fostering creativity and innovation. The only remedy for this is first to recognize their ignorance on the topic of complexity. To confront complexity you first need to become (more) knowledgeable about the very dynamics of complexity.
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“We have to deal with what we do not understand, and that demands new ways of thinking.” (Paul Cilliers, 1998, p. 2, emphasis added)

In this contribution we want to go deeper into the crisis of our time and its consequences for organizations and companies, operating in our society commonly conceived as a kind of ‘information society’ or ‘knowledge society.’ According to the French thinker Edgar Morin, we may speak about a so-called ‘poly-crisis’ (Hessel, 2011, p. 43). We argue that the crisis can be taken as being both a financial, economical, political and moral crisis. The crisis is very much the crisis of Western Culture. According to Sandywell (1996), we may speak about a crisis of Western reason. We ‘simply’ lack an adequate understanding of the crisis we are in. To understand the very crisis we are in, and its effects on Complex Organizations (CO’s) and their management, we need to become more reflective on the nature of this crisis. We argue here that the deep nature of the crisis is still very much hidden. After reading the papers, journals and more specialist literatures, we are of opinion that nobody seems to have a kind of bird eyes view of the crisis. Consequently, nobody seems to know what is underlying the very crisis we are still in. Even worse, we seem not able to view the system with new eyes.

We want to argue here that the crisis is very much the crisis of our common way of knowing. The crisis we are in is very much the crisis of a learned incapacity to make the link between the known known and the field of the unknown unknown (Table 1).

Table 1.
Description of fields of knowledge
Fields of knowledgeKnownUnknown
UnknownAmnesia/Blind spotIgnorance

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