Last week I participated in the fourth Organization Studies Summer Workshop titled "Embracing Complexity: Advancing Ecological Understanding in Organization Studies", in Pissouri, Cyprus. If interested, I presented a paper titled: The ecology of management: Cassandra, a holistic diagnostic for sustainable performance. One of the keynote speakers was Frederick Turner, and he gave a wonderful overview of the state of the art of complexity, that I want to share with you.
Complexity gives a new view on causality. It re-introduces freedom, since the universe is not fully deterministic. Keep in mind that unpredictable does not mean unintelligent. Since freedom regains its importance in science, choice, intention and purpose become real issues. Choice might not be so mysterious as we have made it.
Feedback became the norm. Material qualities and abstract physical laws are consequences of feedback and not the other way round. Even based on positive feedback, complex systems can be very robust. Positive feedback is in no way less robust than negative feedback. Unpredictability is a matter of survival.
We have a new concept of time: time will not go away. Classical science has always made an attempt to rationalize away time. Time is irreducable and irreversible, which gives birth to emergence.
We have a new ontology of recognisable shapes. We have understanding of a new class of shapes: fractals, strange attractors, etc. (in between shapes, strange, entangled, but beautiful shapes). New shapes allow for new questions to be asked.
We have strange attractors instead of dualism. Function and purpose become central issues. The strange attractor (a fractal form) is an ideal form. New species are strange attractors. Are values to be considered something different than strange attractors?
Modelling, eventually, needs new tools, that go above and beyond observations, hypotheses, testing, etc. Non-linear dynamic modelling, or fractals, and the like allow to play around with the interactions and to see when and how we visualize reality. But we still have to learn how to use these tools.
Finally, Turner asked a few questions that I am glad to repeat:
- What is the role of emotions in the new science (are they the drivers? are they strange attractors?)
- What is the role of aesthetics?
- Does promising makes determinism (or is it freedom?)
- How does intention change the brainstructure?
All these facts and questions, management research has ignored asking for years. But more and more management researchers are concerned with understanding reality.