A guide to complexity and organizations

Via Jay Cross is this amazing synthesis – Organize for Complexity – of how complexity affects our work and the ways in which we can change our organizational structures to account for complexity, instead or adding more complication. If you know nothing about complexity, read this. If you know a lot on the subject, keep it as a job aid or use it to help others.

I like the depiction of market dynamics, to which I have added the upper image. It shows the fundamental shift we are going through as the network era unfolds.

The definition of complex systems is quite useful:

Complex systems have presence or participation of living creatures. They are living systems – that’s why they may change at any moment. Such systems are only externally observable – not controllable.

A complex system’s behavior is non-predictable. Here, it’s natural that there is a level of error, uncertainty and illusion that is much higher than in complicated systems.
A complex system may possess elements that can operate in standardized ways, but their interaction would be constantly changing, in discontinuous ways.

The paper includes design principles as well as “how-to” implementation suggestions. Start with, “Design principle ‘Beta’: Self-regulation within the team. Control through peer pressure and transparency. Principles and shared responsibility.” This is a comprehensive, but not heavy, read. I am sure I will turn to it often.

I must say that I agree with pretty much everything in this paper, so I strongly recommend it.

5 Responses to “A guide to complexity and organizations”

  1. Jon Husband

    It’s very good.

    For a networked era .. organizational development principles meet the challenge of ‘designing’ complex systems to function effectively in an environment of ongoing complexity.

  2. Niels Pflaeging

    Hi Harold, I am really happy to see this blog post of yours, and to read your beautiful review of our white paper. Slideshare tells me that your blog drove a lot of interest to our paper, so thank you for that as well. Maybe we find the opportunity to meet and discuss one day!


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