Complexity Sci Potted History Part 2: Like the Whirlpool in the Treacherous Sea of Complex Systems Dynamics

Potted History of Complexity Science: Part 2: The 20th Century CatchUp

Ok, there’s going to be more than two parts… if you are wondering what on earth this is all about, please see my previous blog post by way of a very long introduction. I’m interweaving organisation theory with complexity science and the life sciences here, in chronological order, a potted history at warp speed…

1900s – 1950s: A period of ‘classical’ approach to organization theory

Key thinkers of this era contributed to what Hatch[1]defined as a ‘classical’ inspiration to organization theory. Hatch uses a machine as the metaphor of organization theory with a classical perspective, where the image of the organization is seen as a machine designed and constructed by management to achieve predefined goals. The image of the manager is as an engineer who designs, builds and operates the organizational machine.[2]  She said: “There are two streams contained within what organization theorists now call the Classical School. The sociological stream focused on the changing shapes and roles of formal organizations within society and the broader influences of industrialization on the nature of work and its consequences for workers. This was the interest of Classical scholars such as Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and Karl Marx. The other stream comprises what organization theorists sometimes call Classical management theory to distinguish it from the more sociological approach. This stream was shaped by Frederick Taylor, Henri Fayol, and Chester Barnard, among others, and focused on the practical problems faced by managers of industrial organizations.[3]

The mechanical metaphor assumes that top-down control of people and the organisation is possible, and that all parts of the machine will act as desired by the one in control. The metaphor doesn’t allow for the free will, spontaneity or creativity of the humans within it, and nor does it allow for general unpredictable outcomes emerging from within, between or external to it. Complexity science does seek to permit a description of all those things in harmony with any processes and flows within the organisation.  While the classical period had many proponents who applied the mechanistic metaphor in practice, for management the key figurehead in particular had to be Taylor, the father of ‘Taylorism’.

1911 F. W. Taylor, ‘Founder of Scientific Management’, America

Hatch[4]labels Taylor as a ‘classical’ inspiration to organization theory. She said: “At the turn of the century, Frederick W Taylor proposed applying scientific methods to discover the most efficient working techniques for manual forms of labour… The new system permitted management to define the tasks that workers performed, and also to determine how they approached these tasks… Taylor’s method shifted control of work tasks from craftsworkers to management… Taylor’s system undermined the authority of the workers and their master craftsmen by introducing managerial control and supervision, and by offering differential pay for performance which eroded worker solidarity… These aspects of Scientific Management earned it considerable and lasting ill-repute as being ruinously ignorant of the trust and cooperation between management and workers upon which organizations depend. So much furore was created by Taylor that Scientific Management was the subject of an American Congressional investigation. This controversy has recently re-emerged in postmodern criticism of modernist management practices where Taylorism and its subsequent developments by Henry Ford (involving the mass-production assembly line which some postmodernists refer to as Fordism) are a favorite target along with the Tayloristic practices associated with the total quality management (TQM) movement. Today, postmodern organization theorists reinterpret Taylorism as an early manifestation of the managerial ideology of control.”[5]

In reference to the prevailing style of management seen now, Lewin says this was developed early this century by F W Taylor. Lewin writes, “His book, The Principles of Scientific Management, became a classic in management literature, and its effect lingers today. Taylor was strongly influenced by prevailing scientific thought, particularly Newton’s laws of motion and the new science of thermodynamics, which together allowed scientists to calculate how a machine could operate with maximum efficiency. Taylor imposed this collective, mechanistic paradigm of science on the world of work, where he became obsessed with efficiency as applied to organizations. There was tremendous waste of effort, he said, because management was unscientific. In the best reductionist tradition, Taylor analysed the system down to its component parts, saw how each worked, and then sought the ‘one best method’ to attain the greatest possible efficiency. Workers, he said, were to be viewed as ‘passive units of production’, and the system, or the workplace, was like a machine. The job of the manager was to ensure that the machine ran smoothly. The workers, while offered financial incentives for faster work, were merely cogs in the machine. The system was extremely hierarchical, with workers expected simply to carry out their narrowly-defined jobs. Taylorism was responsible for tremendous increases in productivity in the workplace, and effectively created modern Industrial Age management. Although management theory has undergone many revisions since the early decades of the century, particularly with the impact of Peter Drucker’s thinking, Taylorism still remains the dominant influence today, with the machine model of business as its core, and embodied in a command and control style of management.”[6]

Taylorism therefore took the mechanistic metaphor to the next level, and although you could argue in favour of some of the outcomes of it for the supposed ‘benefit’ of society (mobilisation of the workforce, industrialisation and economic growth), as indicated above there is so, so, so much criticism. If workers were just carrying out narrowly defined jobs, where was their own thinking and initiative? Had they been stripped of their ‘agency’? Many workers were suddenly not ‘required’ to think, and definitely didn’t have permission to act on their own thinking if they did. This style of management also drove the idea that failure wasn’t ok, because you’d never design a machine to fail intentionally, would you? Risk taking and innovation by the general rank and file was out of the question. The natural ebb and flow of processes emerging from the interactions between people, as complexity science would shed light on, had been stripped out.

1879 – 1955 – Albert Einstein, Germany/Switzerland/US

Meanwhile though, great minds were at work, including Einstein. “Einsteincontributed more than any other scientist to the modern vision of physical reality. His special and general theories of relativity are still regarded as the most satisfactory model of the large-scale universe that we have.”[7]However, it was not only his theories that provided the foundations for more recent developments in science. He himself provided inspiration. Einstein’s famous quote ‘Searching for the secrets of the old one’ – was an inspiration to Stuart Kauffman’s work on Boolean networks, who said, ‘I thought that the Old One wouldn’t fool around, that there’d be some deep logic out there, and I thought I’d glimpsed it in the random Boolean nets.’[8]

During this time period is where you’d start to be accused of being esoteric if your thinking diverged from the dominant mechanistic metaphor. So harking to something other than prescriptive top-down management control, such as, for example, creative scientific genius, or the existence of some deity like spirit or force that gave room for reverence of a spiritual appreciation of the more organic flow of physical reality, was more than a little bit left field. But why was it? Wasn’t this just calling to how things were? The spiritual dimension was of course the only place to call to if the mechanistic metaphor held sway. Like Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’, there was the feeling that there was something more, something else, behind and conflicting with our own imposed delusions of limited control. Although Einstein was heavily involved with contributing to quantum mechanics, he didn’t fully buy into ‘uncertainty’.

And for now, the mechanistic metaphor was more than just a metaphor. It had become reality. And Henri Fayol embedded more deeply that which Taylorwas advocating.

1919 – Henri Fayol, Engineer, CEO, and Administrative Theorist, France

Hatch[9]labels Fayol as a ‘classical’ inspiration to organization theory. “Fayol presented what he believed to be universal principles for the rational administration of organizational activities… The principles themselves involved issues such as span-of-control (the number of subordinates that can be overseen by one manager); exceptions (subordinates should deal with routine matters, leaving managers free to handle situations that existing rules do not address); departmentation (the grouping of activities such that similar activities form departments within the organization); unity of command (each subordinate should report to only one boss); and hierarchy (the scalar principle linked all organizational members into a control structure that resembled a pyramid)… Fayol specified the responsibilities of the manager: planning, organizing, command, coordination and control.”[10]The mechanistic metaphor was becoming more and more ingrained in working life. At the same time, it was being used to describe and harness the masses on a social scale, too.

1924 – Max Weber, Sociologist, Germany

Hatch[11]labels Weber as a ‘classical’ inspiration to organization theory. “Like Durkheim, German sociologist Max Weber was interested in defining the key characteristics of industrial societies, one of which he saw as an unavoidable increase in bureaucracy. In contrast to feudal and other traditional forms of organizing, Weber emphasized the rational virtues of bureaucracy which included formal authority based on precise and generalized rules and procedures (described as legalistic forms of control)… Weber credited bureaucracy with being objective and impersonal and therefore unbiased and rational (hence his label for this new form was rational-legal authority). [12]Weber himself, however, apparently recognized that the uses of rationalization rest upon value-based criteria. Evidence for this is found in his distinction between formal and substantive rationality. Formal rationality involved techniques of calculation, while substantive rationality refers to the desired ends of action that direct the uses of calculative techniques. Different desired ends will lead to different uses of formal rationality. Weber warned that formal rationality without conscious consideration of substantive rationality leads to an ‘iron cage’ capable of imprisoning humanity and making man a ‘cog in an ever-moving mechanism’. Such sentiments position Weber close to postmodern critics of modernist organization theory, while his interest in values is carried on by symbolic-interpretive researchers.” [13]

Weber therefore identified some of the things that were emerging out of the industrialised, mechanistic metaphor, top-down control era. His forecast wasn’t rosy. The iron cage would be a trap. I’d be inclined to agree. Therefore, how refreshing to have thinking offered by complexity science to liberate us? Maybe. Thinking that would contribute to complexity science was bubbling away beneath the surface.

1932 – Niels Bohr discovered the basic structure of the atom

Physicist Niels Bohr, a promoter of vitalism, said: “The recognition of the essential importance of fundamentally atomistic features in the functions of living organisms is by no means sufficient for a comprehensive explanation of biological phenomena”. Bohr’s vitalism, which derived from his quantum physics, gained some popularity for a while. At the same time, some biologists continued to argue that the laws of chemistry and physics alone were insufficient to explain important features of life, not because of the addition of some kind of élan vital, but because of emergent complexity.”[14]

Emergent complexity… bubbling away.

1938 – ChesterBarnard, Management Theorist, America

Hatch[15]labels Barnard as a ‘classical’ inspiration to organization theory. “Barnard extended Durkheim’s idea of informal organization to Classical management theory by suggesting that managing this aspect of organizing was a key function of the successful executive. Barnard emphasized the ways in which executives might develop their organizations into cooperative social systems by focusing on the integration of work efforts through communication of goals and attention to worker motivation, ideas that made a more direct contribution to the field of organizational behavior than to organization theory. However, the significance Barnard and his followers attached to the cooperative aspects of organizations is sometimes blamed for having blinded early organization theorists to the importance of conflict as a fundamental aspect of all organizations. Nonetheless, the consideration Barnard gave to issues of value and sentiment in the workplace identified themes that are echoed in contemporary research on organizational culture, meaning, and symbolism.”[16]From a complexity science point of view, at least Barnard was acknowledging the importance of the interaction between people as a locus for change, albeit still with a top-down, command-control intent.

1950s à‘Modernist’ inspiration to organization theory

Key thought of this era contributed to what Hatch[17]defined as a ‘modern(ist)’ inspiration to organization theory. The metaphor of the modern perspective of organization theory is an organism. The image of the organization is seen as a living system that performs the functions necessary to survival – especially adaptation to a hostile world. The image of the manager is as an interdependent part of an adaptive system.[18]At least we’re moving now in an interesting direction beyond the mechanistic metaphor.

“General systems theory … inspired much of the modern approach to organization theory, and helps sustain continued allegiance to modernism among many contemporary organization theorists. In the 1950s, German biophysiologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy presented a theory intended to explain all scientific phenomena across both natural and social sciences from the atom and the molecule, through the single cell, organ, and organism, all the way up to the level of individuals, groups and societies. He recognized that all these phenomena were related – societies contain groups, groups contain individuals, individuals are comprised of organs, organs of cells, cells of molecules, and molecules of atoms. To generalize, he referred to all of these phenomena as systems. Bertalanffy then sought the essential laws and principles that would explain all systems. Thus, the theory he envisioned involved generalizations drawn at such a high level of abstraction that the essence of all scientific knowledge would be clarified and integrated. He called this General Systems Theory… GST knocked down some of the barriers between the sciences, proposing cross-disciplinary research as a revolution in the way science is conducted. To understand the importance of systems thinking for organization theory, it is first necessary to grasp the concept of a system. A system is a thing with inter-related parts. Each part is conceived as affecting the others and each depends upon the whole… This idea of interrelated parts (in systems theory these are called subsystems) emphasizes that, while all systems can be analytically broken down for the purposes of scientific Study, their essence can only be identified when the system in confronted as a whole. This is because subsystem interdependence produces features and characteristics that are unique to the system as a whole. The implication is that, to comprehend a system, you must not merely analyze (or synthesize or integrate), you must also be willing to transcend the view of the individual parts to encounter the entire system at its own level of complexity.”[19]

Ok, good. Increasing acceptance of holism and interconnectivity and interrelatedness of everything. But still a little ahistoric, and a bit atomistic/reductionist due to assumption of the need to break things down into component parts to study them. Moving on then…

1961 – Conrad Waddington quote

Conrad Waddington said:  “Vitalism amounted to the assertion that living things do not behave as though they were nothing but mechanisms constructed of mere material components; but this presupposes that one knows what mere material components are and what kind of mechanisms they can be built into.” Waddington was an emergentist, but not a vitalist. He believed that the assembly of a living organism is subject to physical laws, but that their product is not derivable from the laws themselves. In many ways, the new science of Complexity is heir to this line of reasoning. It is a new emergentism, a potentially far more powerful brand than any of its predecessors.”[20] All influential thinking for Stuart Kauffman, a major proponent for complexity science thinking.

1961 Stuart Kauffman goes to Oxford

Stuart Kauffman went to Magdalen College, Oxford Uni – read philosophy, psychology and physiology. Discovered a facility for inventing theories to explain whatever challenge he was presented in psychology, including aspects of neural networks. Then decided on Medical School.[21]Neural networks are a very interesting example of interacting agents in a highly interconnected system, a key metaphor for complexity scientists.

Early 1960’s – Breakthroughs in genetic understanding

This was a special time for molecular biology. Two French researchers, Francois Jacob and Jacques Monod made breakthroughs in understanding the regulation of gene activity and their work was recognized by the Nobel Prize Committee.[22]Results from this work enabled a whole raft of ‘new’ thinking.

1963 Brian Goodwin publishes his book, ‘Temporal Organization in Cells.’

Work in the biology field was now getting interesting. It’s amazing how all these themes and disciplines are interconnected and interwoven and how you can make sense of the practical value of all this retrospectively, and how even biology and physics have to do with how you are managed in the workplace.

“Brian Goodwin had studied biology at McGill University, Canada, then mathematics at Oxford a few years earlier than Stuart Kauffman, and had pursued a doctorate at Edinburgh University under C. H. Waddington, one of the recent major figures of British Biology. Waddington believed passionately that organisms must be studied as wholes, and that the principal challenge of biology was to understand the genesis of form. Entranced with this holistic approach, Brian integrated it with the molecular biology of Jacob and Monod, and produced a theory of how gene activity and oscillating levels of biochemicals could contribute to biological form. ‘Temporal Organization in Cells’ was his thesis in book form. … The book was an attempt to show how molecular control systems, such as feedback, repression, control of enzyme activity – in other words, the intrinsic local logic of a complex system – gave rise naturally and spontaneously to oscillatory behaviour and global patterns. Such behaviour is an important component of living systems, such as circadian rhythms and the periodic activity of hormone and enzyme systems.”[23]

So the main point to take from this is that natural behaviour in systems is for interaction to occur within and between interconnected parts and from those interactions spontaneous, novel emergence of patterns will occur.  This theme was seen to repeat across more and more natural and living systems. As Stuart Kauffman was also finding out.

1964 Stuart Kauffman at Berkeleyfor premedical education

Stuart obsessed with embryology, particularly how embryonic cells differentiate, forming muscle cells, nerve cells, cells of connective tissue and so on. He said: “Everything was coming into place, the Jacob/Monod ideas, even the networks I’d played around with in Oxford.” Stuart reasoned that it was all but impossible for natural selection to orchestrate the activity of the one hundred thousand genes in the human genome so as to generate the range of some 250 different cell types. He said, “I had a different solution. Imagine that the genes are as a network, each either active or inactive depending on the inputs from other genes. But imagine that the links between the genes are randomly assigned. The counterintuitive result is that you do get order, and in a most remarkable way.”[24](Systems of this sort are known as random Boolean networks – see entry on George Boole – 1815.)


A perspective emphasising a network view of things was becoming stronger, where seemingly random interactions between ‘members’ of a network were seen to produce order, or emergence, on another level. Something new.

1965 Stuart Kauffman, a 2ndyear med Student @ uni of California, San Fran’

Kauffman worked with Boolean networks a lot[25] [the network proceeds through a series of so-called states. At a given instant, each element in the network examines the signals arriving from the links with the other elements and then is active or inactive, according to its rules for reacting to the signals. The network then proceeds to the next state, whereupon the process repeats itself. And so on. Under certain circumstances a network may proceed through all its possible states before repeating any one of them. In practice, however, the network at some point hits a series of states around which it cycles repeatedly. Known as a state cycle, this repeated series of states is in effect an attractor in the system, like the whirlpool in the treacherous sea of complex systems dynamics. A network can be thought of as a complex dynamical system and is likely to have many such attractors.] Kauffman worked on networks by hand, “My pharmacology notebooks are full of them, all up and down the margins”. The number of possible states even in small modestly connected networks rises rapidly as you increase the number of elements and hand-calculated networks soon become unmanageable. To go beyond about 8 elements, a computer is necessary. Kauffman said: “I got some guy to teach me to program and prepared for my first run – a network with a hundred elements, each with two inputs, randomly assigned” – so he had to shuffle the programming cards.[26]

“He [Kauffman] went to the school’s computer centre to prove he was right and that the entire biological community from Darwindown was wrong; “There I was, shuffling this pack of cards, then handing them to the programmer. This was when you fed your program and data into a computer on a set of punched cards. If the program was to work then the cards had to be in perfect order. One card out of place and the machine was likely to spew out garbage. And there was I, shuffling my data cards, randomizing them.” He felt that the conventional explanation for the origins of order in the world of nature had to be wrong.”[27]This modest network had some 1030 possible states, a mere hundred trillion times the age of the universe, measured at one state per second. The computer ran a good deal faster than one state a second. Even so, had the network ventured just the minutest way into its territory of total possible states before hitting a state cycle, the program would have run for days. But, he said: “I was lucky. It went into a state cycle after going through just sixteen states, and the cycle itself was only four states… it’s the crystallization of order out of massively disordered systems. It’s order for free.”[28]

Kauffman read Brian Goodwin’s ‘Temporal Organization in Cells’, and thought, “Oh, he’s got there first … then … hey, I don’t understand this. What’s it all about… He’s got it wrong.” The core of the book – the generation of order as an inevitable product of the dynamics of the system – resonated powerfully with Stuart’s view of the world. He immediately sent Brian a copy of the early results from the Boolean networks, but didn’t enter into correspondence.[29]

The emerging point of the day though, was that state cycles were significant: systems seeming to fall into chaordic disorder would happen on a regular basis, and from this disorder would arise new, emergent order.

1968 Ludwig von Bertalanffy

Although all these advancements were being made in the life sciences, application reaching into organisation theory was a bit slower. Hatch[30]labels Bertalanffy as a ‘modern’ inspiration to organization theory.  “The modernist view is based on the belief that there is an objective, physical reality in question and thus any perspective is but a different view of the same thing.”[31]As a general systems theorist, Bertalanffy promoted a systemic view of interconnected systems within a boundary, but didn’t really advance to looking at how the interconnected elements of a system might co-evolve over time, which is what complexity science became all about really.

1980s à  ‘Symbolic-interpretive’ inspiration to organization theory’

It wasn’t really until the 1980s that organisational theory was really beginning to catch up with the essence and key implications arising from the life sciences. Key thoughts of this next era contributed to what Hatch[32]defined as a ‘symbolic-interpretive’ inspiration to organization theory. The metaphor of a symbolic-interpretive approach to organization theory is that of a culture. The image of the organization is seen as a pattern of meaning created and maintained by human association through shared values, traditions, and customs. The image of the manager is an artifact who would like to be a symbol of the organization.[33]“Enactment theory and the social construction of reality … underpin the symbolic-interpretive perspective.”[34]

“American social psychologist Karl Weick introduced enactment theory in 1969 inhis book ‘The Social Psychology or Organizing’. According to Weick’s theory, when you use concepts like organization, you create the phenomenon you are seeking to study. Similarly, in conceptualizing the environment, organizations produce the situations to which they respond. Enactment theory focuses attention on the subjective origin of organizational realities. Weick states that he purposely used the term ‘enactment to emphasize that managers construct, rearrange, single out, and demolish many ‘objective’ features of their surroundings. When people act they unrandomize variables, insert vestiges of orderliness, and literally create their own constraints. According to Weick, by stating an interest in organization and establishing a language for talking about it, we reify the subject of our study, that is, we make the phenomenon real by speaking and acting in ways that give it tangibility. The concept of reification can be compared to the work of a mime. [35]

A mime, by pretending to make contact with a door or a wall, causes us to imagine that a wall or door is present – we can see the absent object through the mime’s descriptive attitudes and movements. Reification has a similar power to make us see. The difference between miming and enactment is that we are aware of the difference between the door the mime creates in our mind and a real door. In the case of enactment, we can make an environment, a culture, a strategy, or an organization appear, but once we have done so there is little difference between our creation and reality. Of course we do not usually enact these realities individually, rather there is often a certain amount of social agreement and cooperation that occurs before such existence is claimed. In fact, when an individual persistently attempts to enact their own reality individually, we may view them as abnormal, not fitting in, or, in some extreme cases, insane. Thus, enactment overlaps with social construction of reality theory. [36]

The idea that reality is socially constructed was most forcefully argued by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, two German sociologists who wrote an influential book entitled The Social Construction of Reality. These theorists argued that human social order is produced through interpersonal negotiations and implicit understandings that are built up via shared history and shared experience. What sustains social order is at least partial consensus about how things are to be perceived and the meanings for which they stand. Through interpretation, members of a society make patterns of meaning out of their activities in the world, and then assume that the patterns they imposed exist apart from the interpretations that produced them…[37]Now this is starting to sound like complexity science: patterns arising out of interaction between network members.

The social constructionist position explicitly recognizes that the categories of language used to understand organizations (such as environment, structure, culture) are not real or natural in an objective sense. Instead, they are the product of beliefs held by members of a society. That is, we invent and sustain the meanings of terms that we then use to understand the world. Thus we act and interpret action within a sociological context of our own making. Or, as American cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz put it: ‘man is an animal trapped in webs of significance he himself has spun.’” Symbolic-interpretive research, in examining the subjective, social foundations of organizational realities, begins to make us conscious of our participation in organizational process. This links symbolic-interpretive perspectives with postmodernists who want to take control of these processes and reconstruct the organization world along more emancipated lines.”[38]

The implications of all this led to a conceptualised view of the organisation as more of a flattened hierarchy, than a top-down, command-controlled environment. This wasn’t really being applied in practice though.

1971 – 1982 Multi-disciplinary research on Chaco Canyonbegins

“The National Park Service and the University of New Mexico established the Division of Cultural Research or “Chaco Center” under the direction of Dr. Robert H. Lister and Dr. James Judge. Multi-disciplinary research, archaeological surveys, and limited excavations began. Chaco emerged as a regional center of ceremony, administration, trading, and resource distribution, where year-round residents may have been few, and others may have assembled temporarily for annual events and ceremonies. The Chaco Centerextensively surveyed Chacoan “roads”. The results of the Center’s research at Pueblo Alto and other sites dramatically altered our interpretation of the Chacoan world.”[39]

The relevance of this had to do with the insights from this historical, archaeological evidence also revealing the same patterns in co-evolving human systems as found in other life science systems.
 
1975: I was born. Lol. Sorry. Had to slip that in :-))

1983 Notion of an interdisciplinary unrestricted institute emerged from informal lunchtime discussions at Los Alamos National Laboratory

This idea later materialized as the Santa Fe Institute. 1984 – The Santa Fe Institute (SFI) was established. (Interdisciplinary alliance). “The SFIis a private, independent, research and education centre. The founding group included, among others: George Cowan (Founding President), Ken Arrow (Nobel Laureate – Economics), Phil Anderson (Nobel Laureate – Physics), Murray Gell-Mann (Nobel Laureate – Physics).[40]The evidence suggesting that similar patterns of co-evolution were found in such a broad span of disciplines and types of systems had required people from different disciplines to work together rather than separately. In so doing they were able to find many more significant overlaps.

1987 Gleick, J. “Chaos: Making a new science.” Viking Penguin

Putting things together with increasing holism was James Gleick, writing in a popular science style to reach a larger audience. He explained: “Classical physics regarded systems as exactly that: systems that, when powerful enough analytical tools were eventually at hand, would require complex descriptions. The central discovery of the recent interest in nonlinear dynamical systems is that this assumption is incorrect. Such systems may indeed appear complex on the surface, but they may be generated by a relatively simple set of subprocesses. The discovery of chaos theory was in the forefront of that emerging understanding of nonlinear dynamical systems, as James Gleick so enthrallingly described in his book, Chaos. Many of the people who, against the better judgment of their more experienced colleagues, pursued an understanding of chaos are now involved with the wider issue of complexity. Still viewed askance by some, they are no longer regarded as completely misguided. I asked Chris Langton if it was fair to say that Chaos is a subset of complexity. “Yes it is, in that you are dealing with nonlinear dynamical systems,” he replied.[41]

So, yes, chaos theory also comes under the umbrella of complexity science. What doesn’t? You may well ask.

1988 Pagels, H. “The Dreams of Reason”.

The impact of this new learning spanning so many disciplines was starting to be understood. Pagels said: “The great unexpected frontier is complexity… the nations and people who master the new science of complexity will become the economic, cultural and political superpowers of the next century.”[42] Has this happened yet? Maybe not. Can complexity really be harnessed? Wouldn’t that be some kind of paradox? Like the paradox of control?

1989, October 20; Science. Cambridge University geologist Simon Conway Morris, ‘Burgess Shale Faunas and the Cambrian Explosion”

This issue of this journal gave George Gumerman the idea for the Cambrian Explosion analogy. The Cambrian Explosion was the part of the fossil record showing lots of sameness for a very long time, but then rapid expansion (almost an ‘explosion’) of diversity on the fossil record. This gave rise to the idea of punctuated equilibrium, and how living systems perhaps went through phase transitions too. Quote: “I could see the overall pattern, and thought, that’s just like the pattern we see in the Southwest. I’d say it’s a nice analogy. Maybe it’s universal to all evolving systems, maybe to all complex systems.”[43](Idea).

The Cambrian Explosion metaphor is brilliant. You can use it for innovation. For a long time things remain the same, but suddenly, something new happens, a trigger, and everything changes. Nothing is the same ever again.

1990s à‘Postmodern’ inspiration to organization theory

Organisational theory was still going through its own phases of transition, and in the 1990s postmodernism was rippling through. Key thinkers of this era contributed to what Hatch[44]defined as a ‘postmodern’ inspiration to organization theory. The metaphor of the postmodern perspective of organization theory is that of a collage, where the image of the organization is seen as a collage made from bits of knowledge and understanding brought together to form a new perspective that has reference to the past. The image of the manager is that of a theorist, where the theorist is an artist.[45]

“Postmodernists tend to view questions of right and wrong, good and bad, as social constructions that would be usefully redefined as matters for personal reflection and practice. The critical aspects of postmodern organization theory trace to Marxist and neo-Marxist theorizing, particularly in Europe. However, some of the earliest uses of the term ‘postmodernism’ referred to aspects of architectural style that emerged in the mid- to late twentieth century, as described by American architect Charles Jencks in his 1977 book ‘The Language of Post-Modern Architecture.’ Structures that are postmodern stand in opposition to the functionalist style of modern architecture that was typical of building design in the 1930s through the 1960s. The major critique of functionalist (modernist) architecture by postmodern architects is that it is sterile and lifeless. Postmodern architects seek to renew traditions of making built spaces symbolically rich and meaningful by invoking past styles and reinterpreting them using the marvelous new materials and construction techniques that inspired the functionalist movement. That is they fuse modern techniques with traditional concerns for the symbolic meanings expressed by built spaces.[46]

As it applies to organization theory, postmodernism evolved most directly out of the poststructuralist movement in French philosophy which is associated with the events of the late 1960s as these unfolded in Europe. It also found its way into organization theory through applications of linguistic, semiotic, and literary theory via the interest in meaning and interpretation introduced by symbolic-interpretive organization theorists. Like postmodern architecture, modernism is generally described as the culmination of the enlightenment project to rationalize human culture and society, and is criticized for its unquestioned value for rationality and for its efforts to develop an integrated theory of the universe based on scientific principles and methods (e.g. Galileo and Newton’s efforts to discover universal laws in astronomy and physics). Modernism in organization theory (e.g. General Systems Theory), which has likewise sought universal explanation that could approach, if not achieve, the status of natural laws, is thus also open to postmodern critique. Postmodernists challenge the modernist desire for unifying views with the belief that knowledge is fundamentally fragmented, that is, knowledge is produced in so many different bits and pieces that there can be no reasonable expectation that it will ever add up to an integrated and singular view. [47]Postmodernists often challenge modern notions of truth and the search for one best way. As opposed to its self-interpretation as the search for Truth, modernism is reinterpreted by postmodernists as a series of truth claims, supported mainly by modernist rhetoric about how scientific and rational modernism is. [48] One idea critical postmodernists particularly like to problematize and deconstruct is power, which, in most industrial organizations, accumulates at the top of the hierarchy. One postmodernist idea for redressing the imbalance is to give voice to silence. This means seeking greater levels of participation by marginalized members of organizations.” [49]

So postmodernism is rather clever. It accepts the history and impact of the mechanical metaphor, and seeks to deconstruct the power hierarchies of its top-down command-control centres, bringing into the equation the voices from the edge of the then flattened hierarchy. I love it!

1990, Spring – Stuart Kauffman telephones Roger Lewin

Kauffman invites Lewin to the University of Pennsylvania to tell him about complexity. He says: “It’s new and it’s going to be big,” he says.
 
To be continued. Part 3 coming soon!


[1] Hatch (1997)
[2] Hatch (1997:52)
[3] Hatch (1997:27)
[4] Hatch (1997:5)
[5] Hatch (1997:30-1)
[6] Lewin (1999:199-200)
[8] Lewin (1999:42)
[9] Hatch (1997:5)
[10] Hatch (1997:32)
[11] Hatch (1997:5)
[12] Hatch (1997:32-3)
[13] Hatch (1997:32-3)
[14] Lewin (1999:178-9)
[15] Hatch (1997:5)
[16] Hatch (1997:33)
[17] Hatch (1997:5)
[18] Hatch (1997:52)
[19] Hatch (1997:34-5)
[20] Lewin (1999:179)
[21] Lewin (1999:25)
[22] Lewin (1999:26)
[23] Lewin (1999:28)
[24] Lewin (1999:26)
[25] Lewin (1999:27)
[26] Lewin (1999:28)
[27] Lewin (1999:28)
[28] Lewin (1999:28)
[29] Lewin (1999:29)
[30] Hatch (1997:5)
[31] Hatch (1997:8)
[32] Hatch (1997:5)
[33] Hatch (1997:52)
[34] Hatch (1997:34)
[35] Hatch (1997:41-2)
[36] Hatch (1997:41-2)
[37] Hatch (1997:41-2)
[38] Hatch (1997:41-2)
[39] http://www.nps.gov/chcu/briefhis.htmaccessed week commencing 2 Sept. 2002.
[40] www.santafe.edu– accessed week commencing 2 Sept 2002.
[41] Lewin (1999: 12)
[42] Lewin (1999:10)
[43] Lewin (1999:19)
[44] Hatch (1997:5)
[45] Hatch (1997:52)
[46] Hatch (1997:45-46)
[47] Hatch (1997:45-46)
[48] Hatch (1997:45-46)
[49] Hatch (1997:45-46)

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