Complex systems are fundamentally open systems, that is to say, that they have such a high level of connection and exchange with their environment that we can no longer define and manage them in terms of a well-defined boundary, where things are either a part of the organization or not. This is of course how we traditionally think of organizations, as being fixed, relatively static and well bounded, like a football team we can say exactly who is part of the organization and who is not and everyone typically has a fixed well-defined role within that organization, like a government that ascribes positions to each of its members in its different departments. Now think of a metropolitan area, metro areas are complex organizations, they have no well-defined boundaries. They are open systems, people, goods and services are continuously flowing in and out, what makes this an organization at all is not the boundary condition but instead the dense network of interactions and interdependence, everyone is interconnected and interdependent in effecting the overall state to the system.
Complex organizations are dynamic networks, people join and leave as they need, think about Facebook’s social network or people sharing files on the internet, it happens in a swarm-like fashion with people coupling and decoupling from the organization in a dynamic fashion. In these open organizations we do not have control over the components in the system, like international political organizations, they don’t get to tell countries what to do, the capacity to act and make decisions resides on the local level, but members of this kind of organization have come together because they perceive their joint interdependence in effecting some outcome that none can achieve in isolation. An example might be countries coming together to try and solve climate change.
Thus the emphasis in on attracting the members into the organization and creating the conditions that will result in coordination. These organizations may have a centralized component to them that helps to facilitate the organization, if we think about an organization like the OECD or the Linux foundation both have a centralized component that works as a facilitator, coordinating between members, but the vast majority of members are not part of this formal organization they are autonomous and only partly associated with it.
Publish Date: 17-4-2017
Length: 9 pages