Complexity and Organizational Learning

Complexity and Organizational Learning

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2836-6.ch004


Complexity is omnipresent in all aspects of organizational life, and leadership today and in the future must be achieved in face of such complexity. Leaders are here given an in-depth overview of the causative relevance of the competitive way in which business is conducted today versus the past, and the importance of personal and organizational learning for successfully addressing the classes of problems that typically occur. Insights from an extensive literature search are combined with practical experience to identify the important guidance that theory and practice can provide to a leader in successfully carrying out his/her role, including how to apply content from other chapters. The leadership approach to complexity that is outlined here is founded on learning to achieve results through experimentation, learning, and reflection; a case study is presented that illustrates application of this approach.
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Until relatively recently, leaders were developed and encouraged to achieve their goals by a linear process involving a combination of military-style planning, organizing, motivating, controlling and communicating. Planning meant charting a roadmap through the known environment to systematically achieve the mission embedded in a strategic vision for the business. Organizing involved ensuring there were sufficient resources available at the right time and stage of the route. Motivating included rewarding sound performance of staff against set goals and targets. Controlling meant setting and managing deadlines for staff so as to minimize or remove deviations from the strategic plan, and communicating to staff included telling and selling the vision to them as well as giving instructions or orders. However, one of the key features of new marketing thinking over the past 20 years has been the emerging centrality of concepts of customer relationships. A succession of variants emerging from service marketing strategies on this theme and re-appraisals has been developed by both business consultants and the academic community alike, and the effect on leadership, planning, organizing, controlling, and communicating has been profound.

Within the variations and themes it is important to discern the underlying threads: the need to build and sustain relationships with customers, and the need to seek and forge long-term and profitable bonds. Increasingly in the knowledge age, innovation and creative new product development, talent recruitment, retention, and development, and performance management have come to the fore as key features in addressing the consumers and ‘prosumers’ as well as the new demographics. The globalized world environment continues to evolve and converge on interconnectedness between people through social media and the web, and between organizations operating in networks i.e. in digitally connected environments. This evolution continues between disciplines that are the central feature, inducing much of the complex web of social and economic change enabled by rapid technological breakthroughs through the BNIC (Biotechnology Nanotechnology Information and Computing) or GRIN (Genetics, Robotics, Information and Nanotechnology) industries.

Sustained competitive success is now dependent on the effective and intentional management of the human and intellectual capital and material resources, commitment, capability, and competence that reside within the whole supply chain, not just those that reside internally in any company. As such we can discern an inexorable shift in what defines competition. No longer is competition defined by the rivalry for customers of competing firms, but rather the rivalry for membership of the most successful supply chains. This raises issues which are of a fundamentally strategic nature: how do firms and leaders best appropriate the assets/resources, capability, and competence that reside within the global supply chain?

Delivering customer value is now no longer just a make or buy dilemma: the boundaries of firms are becoming increasingly blurred. The nub of this is therefore an exploration, as to the sensemaking of leaders and organizations, of what constitutes the new value processes and streams of supply chain constituents, and how they can be integrated with each other to achieve sustainable competitive advantage. Thus there is the perceived need for leaders and organizations of all kinds to actively engage with the critical debate surrounding the identification of actual and potential sources of value within global supply chains. The supply chain assets, resources, capabilities and competencies must be sourced, developed, and integrated into an holistic value delivery system. The debate demonstrates the significantly complex constellation of inter-relationships of systems and transformational learning. These encompass strategic leadership, knowledge management, culture, procurement concepts, and applications with those from other management and organizational fields to achieve external integration across the permeable boundaries of an organization’s interface with the world.

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