Self-organization is one of the major themes within complex systems and a pervasive phenomenon in our world, complex organizations like schools of fish, ant colonies, and car traffic manage to organize themselves into emergent patterns without any form of global coordination. And this is somewhat counter intuitive to our traditional assumptions where we tend to assume that organization and order need to be imposed by some external force. But self- organization fascinates many people precisely because it is generated internally, hurricanes, consciousness, and swarms of bees are other examples of organization emerging out of the internal interaction between the component parts.
Because of the adaptive capability of humans, whenever they interact locally we invariably get some form of self- organization, thus self-organizing forms of social organization have always been there from local markets to the formation of villages and towns, but one characteristic of the modern era has been the formation of large formal organizations, like bureaucratic governments and corporations.
As we formed these larger organizations the local interaction between members across the whole organization was no longer possible in the way it was in small communities. Given the scale of the organization and the available communication tools, coordinating such large organizations was only really possible through a centralized model, a limited amount of people in the center understood and formulated plans and directions to coordinate the entire organization with information from the local level flowing into the center and directions flowing back out.
Because of economies of scale and other factors, the industrial age selectivity favored these large systems of organization as being more efficient. Small self-organizing systems lived on but largely as a fringe activity as they were never able to get the scale and efficiency to compete with the centralized model as our industrialized economies became increasingly dominated by these large formal centralized organizations, which were, up until recently, seen as the only viable means for the effective production of value within society at scale.
In this paper, we look at the process of self-organization where organization emerges out of local interactions. We firstly give some context to this research by talking about the rise of information technology as an enabler of peer-to-peer interactions that shifts the balance of power from traditional centralized organizations to more informal self-organizing systems. We then give an overview to this process of self-organization, talking about the need for the members to have the autonomy to adapt to local events, the need for dense interactions that require them to find some for of coordination and then how out of this we get the emergence of an attract and global coordination driven by positive feedback. We lastly note how the practice of organizational management has to fundamentally change when dealing with self-organizing systems, from specifying outcomes to designing the input context.
Publish Date: 19-4-2017
Length: 14 pages
Type: Management Research