the next century will be the century of complexity." —Stephen Hawking
thus made up of several simple ones put together, I call complex; such as
beauty, gratitude, a man, an army, the universe." —John Locke
are just beginning to examine complexity and self-organization, I encourage
you to review the following books and websites. This is by no means a
complete list, but some solid places to begin
introduction to complexity came from M. Mitchell Waldrop's book
Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos
(Simon & Schuster, 1992). It was a fabulous place to start. This is a
surprisingly easy-to-read work that will offer you a solid understanding of
the issues and origins. The book was written by the same person who wrote
the article on Dee Hock in Fast Company a few years back. Though now a
little dated, this is still a good summary of the scientific work on
complexity and its implications, with an emphasis on work at the Santa Fe
Institute and the personalities therein.
"Complexity in action is a hundred, no, a thousand, no, a million times
greater than complexity in theory." -Paraphrase of an old Taoist meditation
great books on complexity, self-organization, and fractals include:
Margaret J. Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers. Berrett-Koehler, 1996.
Provocative observations about the fundamental processes of
self-organization and the application of living systems theory to the
organization of human activity, by two leading organizational theorists.
Through Time: From Stardust to Us.
Sidney Liebes, Elisabet Sahtouris and Brian Swimme. John Wiley & Sons, 1998.
A beautifully illustrated presentation on the evolution of life on earth,
highlighting the complexity and creativity of living systems and the growing
impact of humanity on the web of life.
in the Universe: The Search for Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity.
Stuart Kauffman. Oxford University Press, 1996. One of the founders of
the Santa Fe Institute provides an excellent treatment of how order emerges
naturally - and possibly even necessarily - out of chaos. Profoundly
important, and considerably more informed than better-known pop-science
treatments of chaos theory.
Competing on the Edge: Strategy as Structured Chaos.
Shona L. Brown, Kathleen M. Eisenhardt. HBSP, 1998. This book translates
leading edge concepts from complexity theory into management practice. Each
chapter focuses on a specific management dilemma and illustrates a solution.
The authors help organizations find balance between too much and too little
structure. They also encourage organizations to appropriately contextualize
their own past, guiding them on when to learn from past mistakes and
successes and when to break from the past to envision their future anew. The
authors draw on the fields of science, music, and sports to illustrate their
Responsive Processes in Organizations: Learning and Knowledge Creation
(Complexity and Emergence in Organizations).
Ralph D. Stacey. Routledge, 2001. Explains how the knowledge economy can be
seen in a new light when considered from a complexity perspective. Stresses
the importance of relationships as a source of, and influence on,
information and knowledge creation.
Emergence: From Chaos to Order.
John H. Holland. Perseus Press, 1999. A leader in the study of complexity
demonstrates that a small number of rules or laws can generate systems of
surprising complexity - and that within the operation of these systems,
certain essential patterns can be discerned. Those acquainted with chaordic
concepts will see an immediate functional parallel between Holland's "rules"
or "laws" and chaordic "Principles."
of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology.
K. Eric Drexler. Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1986. A very good introduction to
the technology for creating self-replicating "molecular machines" that lies
ahead. Read it with the social, institutional and economic implications of
such enormously increased complexity in mind and it will dramatically expand
Geometry of Nature.
Benoit B. Mandelbrot. W. H. Freeman & Co., 1998. The Fractal Geometry of
Nature is a mathematics text, but even a lay person can pick out and
appreciate Mandelbrot's essential point: that somewhere in mathematics,
there is an explanation for nature. Path breaking work whose implications
for chaordic organization are only beginning to be explored
Dominion: Complexity and the Commons.
Simon A. Levin (Perseus Books Group, 2000 pb). In what he calls a
'cautionary tale,' Levin asserts that 'Mother Earth is in trouble' as a
habitat for humanity because of pollution, new diseases, and 'staggering
losses' of biological diversity. Drawing on Lego's, Scrabble, and the Harlem
Globetrotters, he writes of ecological systems, the environment and the
biosphere, and concludes with 'the eight commandments' of environmental
Harnessing Complexity: Organizational Implications of a Scientific Frontier.
Robert Axelrod, Michael D. Cohen (Basic Books, 2001 pb). This book draws on
the principles of evolutionary biology, computer science and social design
to explain the functioning of complex adaptive systems, specifically
businesses, and how to improve them.
Increasing Returns and Path Dependence in the Economy (Economics, Cognition,
W. Brian Arthur. University of Michigan Press, 1994. Arthur asks us to
examine how our fundamental assumptions about the economy might be all wrong
and far more complex than we've thought before. Much of this book first
appeared in Scientific American February 1990. Article available in
Stuart A. Kauffman. Oxford University Press, 2000. The three laws of
thermodynamics have been summarized as: You can't win, You can't break even,
and You can't get out of the game. In Kauffman's newest book, he suggests
that the fourth law is: But the game keeps getting more complicated, and
there are always more different ways to play.
Susan Blackmore with forward by Richard Dawkins. Oxford University Press,
2000. My most favorite examination of evolution and memetics (memes)
examines complexity as it influences all aspects of life and society.
Common Sense: An e-Manager's Guide to Mastering Complexity.
Michael Lissack, Johan Roos. A persuasive argument for a new way of thinking
and dealing with the realities of modern business. This books offers ten
guiding principles for any modern manager to provide a sense of coherence in
the face of complexity. Offers five more steps for putting the principles
into action. To see what Roos is up to these days, visit the
Imagination Lab Foundation
in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Control: The Rise of Neo Biological Civilization.
Kevin Kelley. Addison-Wesley, 1994. A thought-provoking compendium of where
contemporary scientific thinking about self-organizing systems and the
technologies for creating them are leading in a variety of fields.
Self-Organizing Universe: Scientific and Human Implications of the emerging
Paradigm of Evolution.
Erich Jantsch. Pergamon Press, 1980. One of the first books to provide an
overview of the emerging paradigm of self-organization, with an emphasis on
sociocultural systems. A challenging classic.
Strategic Thinking and the New Science: Planning in the Midst of Chaos,
Complexity, and Change.
T. Irene Sanders. Simon & Schuster, 1998. This books shows broader
applications for the idea that systems behave in orderly ways in spite of
random—and chaotic—individual events.
the Edge of Chaos : The Laws of Nature and the New Laws of Business.
Mark Millemann, Linda Gioja, Richard Pascale. Three Rivers Press, 2001. A
provocative book about the parallels between business and nature—two fields
that feature nonstop battles between the forces of tradition and the forces
of transformation. It offers a new way of thinking about and responding to
the personal and strategic challenges everyone in business faces these days.
Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size.
Tor Nrretranders and Jonathan Sydenham (translator). Viking Press, 1999.
While this book is mostly about consciousness, a good portion offers a
thorough examination of information, complexity, and order as a way to
examine what we do (or don't) know. These notions are woven together as the
discussion of how our consciousness works begins.
objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity." -Burke
Journals and Articles on Complexity
Journal from Wiley.
Harvard Management Update. March 1999. "Complexity theory explores how
simple interactions among objects become something new and different over
time. A cousin of chaos theory, complexity tries to find the patterns or
"hidden order" by which an economy or ecosystem evolves. Tools based on this
theory can help managers control systems involving complex logistics.
Computer simulations are designed to spot emerging patterns and then adapt
to changes, much as life itself evolves in response to changes in the
environment. Uses for such tools range from managing production scheduling
to determining customer reactions to new retail store layouts. Some of the
new thinking on complexity theory argues that complexity offers not just a
set of expensive tools but also a metaphor that encourages innovative
thinking. Managers can use key principles derived from complexity to allow
their units to "self-organize" into more efficient groups, and to find and
respond to specific changes in real time. This article includes an annotated
"If you want to learn more" section with information on the basics of
complexity theory as well as on advanced applications."
Adaptive Schools in a Quantum Universe by Robert Garmston and Bruce
Wellman. Educational Leadership, April 1995 | Volume 52 | Number
7. An examination of the "new sciences" offers insights into new
approaches to school improvement and provides practical tools and ideas for
school refinement that can lead to improved learning for all students.
Information from the new sciences—quantum mechanics, chaos theory,
complexity theory, fractal geometry, and the new biology—can help educators
rethink their approaches to school improvement and work in new ways within
the principles suggested by these sciences. The new sciences reveal to us
that we live not in a world of either/or but in the dawning of a
world of both/and. Chaos and order are part of the same system; they
"It's much more effective to allow solutions to
problems to emerge from the people close to the problem rather than to
impose them from higher up."
Websites & Organizations focused on Complexity
Sante Fe Institute
is a private, nonprofit, multidisciplinary research and education center,
founded in 1984. Since its founding SFI has devoted itself to creating a new
kind of scientific research community, pursuing emerging science. Operating
as a small, visiting institution, SFI seeks to catalyze new collaborative,
multidisciplinary projects that break down the barriers between the
traditional disciplines, to spread its ideas and methodologies to other
individuals and encourage the practical applications of its results. The
Sante Fe Institute has a list of
publications & resources
on their website, too.
Serendip's Complex Systems Website
Exploratorium's complexity exhibit
Systems and Complexity page
and Complexity Theory in Education
Cybernetics, Systems Theory and Complexity
Nonlinear Dynamics and Complex Systems Theory (Glossary)
Complexity Theory and Management Practice
by Jonathan Rosenhead. There is a growing popular literature on chaos and
complexity authored by scientists of high reputation writing about research
fields in which they are themselves active. There is also a burgeoning which
draws on this work to address management concerns and practices, but whose
authors are experienced in management and management education rather than
in the substantive scientific fields whose findings they report and
interpret. I shall refer to this arena as 'management complexity'.
other favorites? Let us know! Who knows what that one action will