Exploring the Implications of Complexity Thinking for the Management of Complex Organizations

Exploring the Implications of Complexity Thinking for the Management of Complex Organizations

Kurt A. Richardson (ISCE Research, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-668-1.ch003


This article is an attempt to explore the implications of the emerging science of complexity for the management of organizations. It is not intended as an introduction to complexity thinking, but rather an attempt to consider how thinking ‘complexly’ might affect the way in which managers do their jobs. This is achieved in a rather abstract way with some theory, but I hope the general message that there is no one way to manage comes through loud and clear, and that management is as much an art as it is a science (and always will be). In a sense complexity thinking is about limits, limits to what we can know about our organizations. And if there are limits to what we can know, then there are limits to what we can achieve in a pre-determined, planned way.
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What If Organizations Were Merely Complicated?

What if human organizations were complicated rather than complex? The simple answer to this question is that the possibility of an all-embracing Theory of Management would almost certainly exist. This would make management very easy indeed as there would be a book of theory (The Management Bible – it would probably challenge the current all-time bestseller in sales!) that would tell the practicing manager what to do in any given context. The means of achieving effective and efficient organizational management would no longer be a mystery. But what is it about the concept of ‘complicated’ that makes this scenario plausible? Why has the possibility of a final management theory not been realized yet, given the millions of man-hours and published pages devoted to the search? Why does approaching organizations as ‘complex’ rather than ‘complicated’ deny us of this possibility?

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