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Complexity Theory: A New Way to Look At Organizational Change

PAQ, Vol. 29 No. 3, (2005)

There is a revolution in the physical sciences with applying
new theories that emphasize holism, uncertainty, and nonlinearity and
that de-emphasize reductionism, predictability and linearity. The
interest is growing in applying these theories to the study of
organizations, including public organizations. The classic model of the
organization as a machine has long since been discredited, but the
models that have replaced this metaphor have been less than
satisfactory. The basic principles of complexity theory are explained
using organizations as examples. Complexity theory suggests that
organizational managers promote bringing their organizations to the
“edge of chaos” rather than troubleshooting, to trust workers to selforganize
to solve problems, to encourage rather than banish informal
communications networks, to “go with the flow” rather than script
procedures, to build in some redundancy and slack resources, and to
induce a healthy level of tension and anxiety in the organization to
promote creativity and maximize organizational effectiveness.

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