In this paper, we give a high-level overview of the domain of complexity management. We can understand complexity management as the application of complexity theory to the practice of management. Thus it draws upon the key insights and ideas from complexity science and uses them to try and help us manage complex organizations, examples of these complex organizations would include, cities, international politics, multinational corporations, global logistics networks or healthcare systems. These are all complex organizations due to their nature of having many parts that are highly interconnected, interdependent and autonomous.

We can, and do, go on using our traditional industrial age management approach to try and manage these organizations, but the basic principles underlying our traditional management approach were designed for dealing with relatively simple systems – that is organizations that have a limited number of components, that interact in a simple linear fashion at a low level of interconnectivity and where we can constrain those components. A factory would be a classical example of this and it should be not surprising that the industrial age management approach was designed to manage relatively simple closed systems like factories because that was exactly what we had to do a hundred or two hundred years ago when this approach was formalized. But today in postindustrial economies managing factories, as important as it is, is really the least of our concerns, we face much more complex challenges such as trying to get our healthcare systems working, enabling effective forms of governance, or collaboration between companies across large supply chains.

These are all very different forms of organization that present a different set of challenges and require a more complex approach to management that is aligned with their core attributes. And we already see lots of innovation in management theory to meet this, we have seen the rise of a new set of ideas around agile and lean organizations, many different ideas around flipping the hierarchy upside down and creating networked organizations, and lots of innovation in creating more collaborative organizations. But most of these new management theories can be best understood within the context of complexity theory, as they all fit within the complexity framework. In the rest of this paper, we outline what that framework is, that is to say, the key concepts within complexity theory and how they apply to management. Although complexity theory consists of a whole zoo of new ideas we will structure it around a few central concepts, namely, systems thinking, nonlinearity, networks and adaptation and evolution.

  • Publish Date: 23-5-2017

  • Length: 16 pages

  • Type: Management Research

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